Parshas Vayeitzei – Your are a Big Tzadik

And Yaakov went out from Be’er Sheva and he went to Charan. (Bereishis 28:10)

And was (Yaakov) the only one that went out from there? Didn’t many donkey drivers and many camel drivers go out from there? Yet, the Torah says “And Yaakov went out”.

Rabi Azaryah said in the name of Rabi Yehudah bar Simon: at the time when a Tzadik is in a city, he is its splendor and glory, when he leaves the city the splendor and the glory vacate.

The Eitz Yosef explains “and hadara is the kavod (honor) that he (the Tzadik) gives to every person and the honor that they (in return) give to him. The impression that a Tzadik has on a community is that they, in a way, emulate his elevated behavior.”

The Midrash provides an example of this. After Yaakov worked for seven years to marry Rachel, Lavan schemed to exchange her for Leah. Lavan revealed this scheme to the people of Charan. He reminded them that before Yaakov came, Charan lacked water.

When Yaakov arrived, they received the blessing of water. Lavan explained: if we trick Yaakov into working for me for another seven years, we will be guaranteed another seven years of water.

The Midrash says:
And all of that day (the day Yaakov was scheduled to marry Rachel) they (the townspeople) would praise him (Yaakov), and when night fall came, he asked them why they were doing this.
They responded: you did chesed with us (by providing water), therefore we are praising you, they sang Ha Laya, Ha Laya (to hint to Yaakov that) Hee Leah, Hee Leah (she is Leah and not Rachel).

The Midrash is telling us that even though the townspeople had promised Lavan to keep his secret and even though they would have greatly benefitted from another seven years of water, they did not want to trick Yaakov because he had performed chesed for them. This is the impact that a Tzadik can have even on a less than stellar group of people.

Many times, we find ourselves in a situation in which we are in the role of “tzadik”. Meaning, in the eyes of others, we are more righteous. This happens commonly in the workplace where a group will be talking and someone will speak negatively about another or use inappropriate language and then catch himself and say something like “Sorry Moshe, I didn’t realize you were here” or “Excuse me Sarah, I know you don’t appreciate that type of language.”

Commonly, we will respond with something like “It’s fine” or “Don’t worry, I’ve heard worse”.

While this seems polite, it is a lost opportunity to influence others. Instead of excusing the behavior, step up and reply with “Thanks for realizing that I try to avoid speaking crassly or negatively about others. It really enhances my self-worth and the way that I value others, even those with whom I might be upset. We can all try to do that.”

Leadership is not about title, position, or authority. It’s not conferred by elections or coronations. It’s about anyone, even you, who influences others for the good. Go lead!

The Takeaway:
Yaakov made an impression on Be’er Sheva and Charan to the extent that the people who lived there acted more properly. We have the opportunity to do the same in the communities in which we live and work.

This Week:
Think about the personal and professional groups where you carry influence. Play out in your mind how you will respond when faced with improper speech within those groups.

Parshas Toldos – FFB and BT Tzaddikim

Rabbi Yaacov Haber (the YU musmach) has an interesting piece on Parsha Toldos where he points out:

– Rashi says that Yitzchak’s prayers were answered instead of Rifkas because he was a Tzaddik, who was a child of a Tzaddik, while Rivka was a Tzaddik who was the child of a Rasha.

– This seems to contradict the Gemora which says that a Tzaddik can not stand in the place of a Baalei Teshuva seemingly because a BT has a harder job and therefore more reward. And therefore Rifka’s prayers should have been answered because she worked harder.

– Rabbi Haber says that a FFB has it harder than a BT because the BT approaches Judaism with more enthusiasm.

– Therefore Yitzchak’s prayers were answered because he was still a Tzaddik even though he was an FFB (the son of a Tzaddik).

But we all know that to many that BT enthusiasm we have to keep on learning, so here is Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Toldos. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash here.

Toldot
#25 Esav Sells Birthright to Yaakov
#26 Rivkah in Palace of Avimelech
#27 Yaakov Takes Blessing from Esav
#28 Yaakov Goes to Padan Aram

#25 Esav Sells Birthright to Yaakov
* Rivkah is barren
* Rivkah’s painful pregnancy
* Prophecy that she will give birth to twins – two great nations
* Yaakov completely honest, Esav deceitful
* Esav sells birthright to Yaakov

#26 Rivkah in Palace of Avimelech
* Famine
* ‘Don’t go down to Egypt’
* G-d’s promise to Yitschak to be an Eternal G-d & inherit the land forever.
* Avimelech almost takes Rivkah
* HaShem makes Yitschak exceedingly wealthy
* Avimelech tells Yitschak to leave his land
* Three wells of conflict: Esek-Sitna-Rechovot
* Yitschak goes to Be’ar Sheva
* HaShem reassures Yitschak: “Don’t fear, I’m with you!”
* Yitschak builds an altar
* Agreement with Avimelech
* Esav marries at 40 years old

#27 Yaakov Takes Blessing from Esav
* Rivkah persuades Yaakov to impersonate Esav
* Yitschak blesses Yaakov believing him to be Esav
* Esav’s blessing
* Rivkah tells Yaakov to flee from Esav

#28 Yaakov Goes to Padan Aram
* Yitschak tells Yaakov to go to Padam Aram
* Yitschak blesses Yaakov
* Esav marries Mahlat, daughter of Yishmael

On Disabling the “Frumkeit-Checker” In My Brain

On a school vacation day a number of years ago, here in the Holy Land, I’m out with my brood at an amusement park. The children are scattered; some on the bumper cars, others on trampolines and I’m at the plastic picnic tables along with the other bored adults, waiting for the kids to tire out or the place to shut down, whichever comes first.

Meanwhile, I’m using my idle moments to people watch pretending to be Marcel Proust sitting in a Parisian sidewalk, which of course, I’m not.

Most of the other patrons are secular Israelis, but then I see, one of us, a frum young mother cradling a newborn baby in her arms. She’s cute, the mother I mean: one of those rare creatures who combines her Yiddishkeit with an inbred funk. I’ll bet that she has jazz on her CD player and pesto and sundried tomatoes in her fridge and davens where no one winces at the long curls tumbling out of her beret or the fact that her flary skirt stops just above her knees.

She reminds me of a discarded earlier version of myself. I’ve since gotten stodgier, and frummer, taken on borer and bug checking, shatnez and tznius . But somehow in the course spiritual climb, I’ve gotten judgmental. It is almost as if someone managed to install a frumkeit checker in my brain which automatically monitors the madreiga of everyone I encounter.

Ooops , here comes the young mother’s reading several notches below me ( I could have guessed that) , definitely not Bais Yaacov material, wouldn’t pass through the admissions board in Kiryat Sefer…. a joke, a pseudo-orthodox Jew….. right?

I look at her again. Now I see that she isn’t alone. Along with her baby, she has another companion, a middle aged woman with thinning red hair dressed in black pants. Now, I put the pieces together.

The old woman is her mother and the young mother is one of us, a ba’alat teshuva, someone with the spiritual fine tuning to hear the Torah’s call over the media’s din. And she’s upended her identity, possibly changing her name, her address, her friends, to mend the broken links in the chain of tradition.

I imagine her fighting grueling internecine battles to establish a beachhead of kashrut and Shabbat and family purity—a real heroine.

The truth is that I’m making this up, but I’m making a point. I think I can size her up in a instant, but let’s be real, I can’t. Who can I size up? What do I know of the young mother’s life or anyone else’s life, for that matter?

So why the frumkeit checker?

A few reasons come up. It’s a kick, albeit an unhealthy one. Righteous indignation is a high. There is a perverse thrill in that irresistible “how dare she” feeling that comes from sneering at someone else’s (especially someone younger and cuter) deficiencies.

And the checker also deflects insecurity, by marginalizing anyone different and potentially threatening and it begs a little question that most of us don’t like to ask “what if she is right and I am wrong”. Putting her down changes that subject.

That is great, but it’s got a problem. The problem is that this isn’t the Torah’s approach. According to the Torah, when I encounter someone different what I need to determine is what I can learn from them, how I can use the interaction to grow .

As to the young mother I have no clue as to why her tznius is not quite normatively Halachic but I do know that she (and most everyone else in the place ) is a Jew.

Once upon a time, when a Jew met another Jew he’d call out Sholom Aleichem Reb Yid.  Hello Mr. Jew, but that is mostly gone today, replaced by the frumkeit checker and it’s accessories, judgementalism and divisiveness.

I need to find my own Sholom Aleichem For this woman (and for all Jews) at least in my heart and to delegate the job of other people’s spiritual repair to the Kiruv Rabbis and G-d.

As soon as I get out of this park, I’ve got Pesach cleaning to do, and my first stop will be the hametz in my own head. Disabling that nasty frumkeit checker is a good first step.

Originally Published April 2009

Parsha Lech Lecha

Lech Lecha is such a foundation parsha and probably the most popular one for BTs to start with when they start learning. Minimally you can read an Art Scroll translation to fulfill the mitzvah of Shneim Mikra V’Echad Targum and there’s so much available in English and Hebrew on the Parsha.

Here’s a link to Rabbi Welcher’s shiur on Shneim Mikra V’Echad Targum where he says that Rabbi Chaim Sheinberg zt”l says you can fulfill the targum requirement with an Art Scroll Translation.

YU Torah has close to 200 free mp3s for download on Lech Lecha. Enjoy.

Here’s Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Lech Lecha. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash very inexpensively here.

Lech Lecha
#12 “Go!”
#13 Lot Leaves Avram
#14 5 Kings Battle 4 Kings – Avram Goes to War
#15 Contract at Beyn HaBetarim
#16 Hagar Expelled
#17 Circumcision

#12 “Go!”
* ‘Leave your homeland’
* ‘I Will make you a great nation’
* ‘I will bless you’
* Avram was 75 when he left Charan
* HaShem promised land of Canaan to Avram’s seed
* Avram built an altar
* Avram moved to Bet El and built another altar, called it ‘Shem.’
* Moved south (Negev)
* Famine
* Descends to Egypt
* ‘Say you’re my sister’
* Pharaoh lavishes gifts upon Avram
* Pharaoh takes Sarai
* Pharaoh stricken
* ‘Take her and go!’
* Pharaoh sends royal escort with Avram and Sarai

#13 Lot Leaves Avram
* Avram returns to Negev and finally Bet El
* Conflict between Lot and Avrams’ shepherds
* Avram offers Lot to leave but will remain loyal as brother
* Lot goes to Sdom
* HaShem promises the land of Cana’an to Avram’s seed forever
* HaShem promises Avram his seed will be like the dust of the earth
* Avram walked the entire land of Cana’an to acquire it
* Avram moves to Chevron and builds an altar

#14 5 Kings Battle 4 Kings – Avram Goes to War
* Battle of 5 kings against 4 kings
* Avram saves Lot
* Malki Tsedek blesses Avram

#15 Contract at Beyn HaBetarim
* Divine Vision
* ‘Fear not, your reward is very great!’
* ‘But I’m still childless?!’
* ‘Count the stars!’
* ‘How will I know I will inherit the land?’
* bring 3 calves, 3 goats, 3 rams, 1 dove and 1 pigeon
* Split them in half
* Deep trance, prophecy of 400 year slavery
* ‘You will die very old’
* 4th generation will return to the Promised Land

#16 Hagar Expelled
* Co-wife Hagar
* Hagar expelled, three angels appear to her:
#1 Angel tells her to return to Sarai in submission;
#2 Angel promises Hagar will give birth to a large nation;
#3 Angel names her future child ‘Yishmael’, ‘he will be a wild rebel’
* Yishmael born, Avraham is 86

#17 Circumcision
* 99 years old, ‘Walk before be in simplicity’
* HaShem adds the letter Hey to Avram – Avraham
* HaShem promises to be an Eternal Omnipotent G-d to his seed forever
* HaShem promises Eretz Yisrael will be an eternal heritage to us, forever.
* Avraham commanded in circumcision
* HaShem adds the letter Hey to Sarai – Sarah
* Avraham laughed
* “If only Yishmael would live before you!”
* HaShem promises Avraham that Sarah will mother the Jewish nation
* ‘But I will bless Yishmael as you requested’
* Avraham 99, circumcised entire household, Yishmael was 13

Helping Klal Yisroel with Torah, Avodah and Gemillas Chassadim

Agudath Israel of America, recently shared a Kol Korei from the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America:

Jewish blood viciously spilled like water in the Holy Land; precious b’nei Tziyon killed sanctifying Hashem’s Name; interlopers coming into Hashem’s land.
We are cloaked in misery because of the pain to our nation.

In light of this, we call out to Klal Yisroel to strengthen ourselves in the foundations of our people, the pillars of the world: Torah, Avodah, and Gemillas Chassadim.
Let us gather in multitudes to pour our hearts out in prayer and to beseech our Father in Heaven, and to fervently recite chapters 83, 130, and 142 of Tehillim each day.
Women, too, should recite these chapters.

Hashem accepts the prayers of the broken and humble – may our words find favor before Him. May Hashem hear our cry and accept with mercy our prayers and speedily send Moshiach.
—–

Now is a great time to start Shnayim Mikra V’Echod Targum, which is reading the weekly Torah portion twice in Hebrew and its translation once.

The Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berurah describe different levels of performing Shanyim Mikra, but here’s the easiest way which will enable you to perform it and achieve its spiritual growth benefits:
1) Read out load the Parsha in Hebrew during the week to fulfill the first Hebrew reading.
2) Learn he Art Scroll translation in English during the week (It’s best to verbalize what you read). This fulfills the translation component.
3) On Shabbos, during the public leining read along out loud quietly to fulfill the second Hebrew reading.

Each week counts as a separate mitzvah so don’t fret if you miss a week.

Check out https://shnayimyomi.org/

Rabbi Jonathan Rietti was kind enough to allow us to post the outline here, but you can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash for the low price of $11.95 for yourself and your family.

Bereshis
#1 Creation of the Universe
#2 Creation of Man
#3 The Snake
#4 Cain Kills Hevel
#5 Ten Generations of Adam
#6 Warning of Global Destruction

#1 Creation of the Universe
1st Day: Heaven-Earth – Light-Darkness
2nd Day: Rakia is split
3rd Day: Land-Sea & Vegetation
4th Day: Sun-Moon & Stars
5th Day: Fish-Birds-Creepies – Blessing to Multiply
6th Day: Animals – Man-Dominate-Tzelem-Blessing to Multiply. 

#2 Creation of Man
* Shabbat – Heavens and Earth complete 
* Rain-Man
* Creation of Adam & Chava
* Located in Gan Eden
* Tree of Life & Tree of Knowledge of Good and Negative
* Four Rivers: 1) Pishon; 2) Gihon; 3) Hidekel (Tigris); 4) Euphrates
* One Command: “Don’t eat from Tree of Knowledge or you will die!”
* Not Good To Be Alone
* No Companion – Adam Names all the animals
* Sleep
* Chava Created
* Naked

#3 The Snake
* Snake was Cunning
* Chava Ate
* Adam Ate
* Eyes opened-Clothes
* “Where Are You?”
* Adam blames Wife – G-d
* Chava blames snake
* The Snake’s Curse: Most cursed, Legless, Eat dust, Hated, Slide.
* Woman’s Curse: Pain in Pregnancy, Childbirth, Child-Raising, Husband will Dominate.
* Man’s Curse: Ground is cursed, Sweat from toil, Death-return to dust
* Man names his wife ‘Chava’
* Expulsion from Gan Eden

#4 Cain Kills Hevel
* Hevel’s offering
* HaShem rejects Cain’s offering
* “Why are you depressed? Pick yourself up and start again!”
* Cain kills Hevel
* Cain is cursed – Wanderer
* Cain’s children: Chanoch & Lemech-City named Chanoch
* Chanoch – Irad – M’huyael – Metusha’el – Lamech marries Adda & Tzilah.
* Adda mothers Yaval & Yuval (Yaval is first nomad, Yuval makes musical instruments).
* Tzilah mothers Tuval Cain – (he invents weapons and metal works)
* Tzilah mothers Naama
* Adam reunites with Chava – Shet

#5 Ten Generations of Adam
1st Gen. Adam 930
2nd Gen. Shet 912
3rd Gen. Enosh 905
4th Gen. Keinan 910
5th Gen. Mehalalel 895
6th Gen. Yered 962
7th Gen. Chanoch 365
8th Gen. Metushelach 969
9th Gen. Lemech 777
10th Gen. Noach-Shem-Cham-Yafet

#6 Warning of Global Destruction
* Population explosion
* Fallen Angels take women
* 120 year life limit
* Titans
* Man’s entire agenda was wickedness all day!
* Decree to destroy entire world except Noach

Inner Meaning Behind The Four Species and the Sukkah – Bilvavi

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh
Download some Drashos on Succos

The Inner Meaning Behind The Four Species and the Sukkah

In the Yom Tov of Sukkos, the main mitzvos are to shake the four species and to sit in the sukkah. (There used to also be the mitzvah of nisuch hamayim in the Beis Hamikdash, but we no longer have the Beis Hamikdash).

The mitzvah of the four species involves movement – we shake them and move them around, which symbolizes how we want to move away from evil, and instead to come closer to Hashem. By contrast, the mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah involves no movement at all – we sit in it and don’t move at all. This symbolizes a different aspect of our avodas Hashem: to reach the point of “non-movement.”

In other words, there are two steps in our avodas Hashem- sometimes we have to “move”, and sometimes we “don’t move”.[1]

Sukkos of Today and Sukkos of the Future

There is a halachah on Sukkos that we have to sit specifically in the “shadow” (“tzeil”) of the sukkah. This is the sukkah of nowadays – we sit in the sukkah’s shadow, which symbolizes how Hashem’s radiance is concealed from us.

However, in the future, Chazal state that the sukkah will be made from the skin of the leviathan – it will be a sukkah of entirely light. The Sukkah of the future will be the perfect sukkah, in which “all citizens” (“kol ha’ezrach”) will be enveloped within it; “ezrach”, “citizen”, is rooted in the word “zerichah”, “light.” This alludes to the sukkah of the future, which will be totally light. This is because the depth behind the sukkah is not just to be “in the shadow” of the sukkah, but to sit in the light of Hashem.

Dovid Hamelech says that “Hashem is my light, and my salvation.” Chazal expound on this verse that “my light” is referring to Rosh Hashanah, while “my salvation” is referring to Yom Kippur. Sukkos, which is the continuation of this, is the actual revelation of “my light”, Rosh Hashanah – which is entirely Hashem’s light.

It is only nowadays that the sukkah is like a “shadow”, because since there is evil in the world, the evil places a “shadow” on the “light” of Rosh Hashanah and dims it from its full effect. But in the future, there will be no more evil, and then Sukkos will no longer be a concept of shadow, but rather a concept of complete spiritual light.

Shemini Atzeres – The D’veykus With Hashem Above All Spiritual Light

Even higher than Sukkos is the level of Shemini Atzeres, which is the day of complete unity between Hashem and the Jewish people. It is a power that is above even the spiritual light revealed through Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos.[2]

Chazal say of this day that Hashem said, “Remain with me one more day”. This is the great desire of Hashem toward His people, and it was there even before Hashem created light on the first day; this great desire that He has to us returns on Shemini Ateres.

[1] The Rav has been brief here in this fundamental concept; we will elaborate here to give more background. Generally speaking, the lower mode of Avodas Hashem involves movement, such as the six days of the week, when we move and work, representing the mundane. On Shabbos we don’t move, because we do not work; thus non-movement is always seen as the higher aspect of our Avodas Hashem. In sefer Da Es Menuchasecha (which is available online in English as The Search for Serenity), these concepts are explained at length in regards to achieving menuchas hanefesh – that the more we reach our “non-moving” state of our soul, the closer we come to our inner peace. The innermost part of our soul, our Yechidah, is a non-moving part of our existence, because our actual self is very still, content with its existence, for it is a cheilek eloka mimaal, a “portion of Hashem”. Our very essence is unmoving because it is rooted in Hashem, who is unmoving. Non-movement is also explained more in sefer Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh: Shabbos Kodesh, as well as in sefer Da Es Hargoshosecha (soon to be released in English as “Getting To Know Your Feelings”). This footnote does not nearly exhaust the topic; it is a very vast subject which the Rov frequently discusses, and the references we have given here are the main sources where the Rov discusses it at length.

[2] Editor’s Note: See sefer Sifsei Chaim: Moadim (Vol. I) who explains how the spirituality of Shemini Atzeres is deeper than the first days of Sukkos. On Sukkos, we have the mitzvah of sukkah and the four species, because we are given these tools on Sukkos to reach closeness to Hashem through them. However, Shemini Atzeres is a higher connection we have with Hashem, as it is the culmination of the entire Yomim Noraim; thus, it doesn’t require us to sit in the sukkah or to shake the four species, because it is more of a direct connection with Hashem.

Yom Kippur – Disconnecting from Sin

Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the Bilvavi and the Getting to Know Yourself (Soul, Emotions, Home) seforim has
a free download available of Yomim Noraim Talks here.

A Day of Soul With No Body

It is written, “For on this day you shall be forgiven and be purified.” Yom Kippur is the time of purity, in which Hashem purifies the Jewish people. The words of Rabbi Akiva are well-known: “Praiseworthy are the Jewish people – before Whom are they purified, and Who purifies them? Just as a mikveh purifies those who are impure, so does Hashem purify the Jewish people.”

Let us think of how our purification process is compared to that of a mikveh. In the sefarim hakedoshim, it is brought that one should immerse in a cold mikveh, because the words “mayim karim” (cold water) has the same gematria (numerical value in Hebrew letters) as the word “meis” – “corpse.” In other words, when a person immerses in a cold mikveh, he is considered to be like a dead person.

What is the gain in being considered like a dead person? Hashem doesn’t want us to die – He wants us to live. A dead person cannot serve Him and do mitzvos. So what is the gain in being considered like “dead” when one goes to a cold mikveh?

There are many meanings behind this concept, but we will focus on just one point, with the help of Hashem.

What, indeed, is death? When a person dies, does he stop existing? We all know: of course not. We are made up of a body and a soul; by death, the soul leaves the body, the body is buried and the soul rises to Heaven. So the whole concept of death is that the soul leaves the body.

If we think about it, this is what Yom Kippur is all about. We have a mitzvah on this day to fast, and our body is denied certain pleasures. We have to be like angels on this day – souls without a body. Only our body suffers from this, though – not our soul. The soul actually receives greater vitality on Yom Kippur (as the Arizal writes). Normally, we need to eat and drink physically in order to be alive, but on Yom Kippur, we receive vitality from above, and thus we do not need physical food or drink.

The Arizal would stay up all night on Yom Kippur. Simply speaking, this was because he didn’t want to take a chance of becoming impure at night (from nocturnal emissions). But the deeper reason behind his conduct was because Yom Kippur is a day in which we are angelic, and we don’t need sleep. Yom Kippur is a day of soul with no body.

On every Yom Tov, there is a mitzvah to eat. Although Yom Kippur is also a Yom Tov, we don’t eat, because it is a day of soul with no body. It is the only day of the year in which we live through our soul and not through our body. The rest of the Yomim Tovim involve mitzvos that have to do with our body.

It is also the only day of the year in which we resemble the dead. We wear white, and there are two reasons for this: the inner reason is because we are resembling the angels, and the external reason is because we want to remind ourselves of death, who are clothed in white shrouds. The truth is that these are not two separate reasons – they are really one and the same: a dead person is a soul with no body, just like an angel.

Let us stress the fact that we do not mean to remind ourselves of death in order to scare ourselves. Although there is a concept of holy fear, that is not our mission on Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is actually scarier than Yom Kippur, because it is the day of judgment. The point of reminding ourselves of death on Yom Kippur is, because Yom Kippur is a day in which one is a soul without a body – resembling an angel.

The Purity Available Only On Yom Kippur

That is the clear definition of Yom Kippur, and now we must think into what our actual avodah is on this day. We mentioned before the custom to immerse in a cold mikveh before Yom Kippur. It seems that this is because when we immerse in cold water, we are considered dead, and thus we are purified. But on a deeper note, the death which a person must accept when he immerses in the mikveh is so that he can realize that he is really a soul, without a body. Hashem purifies us on Yom Kippur – when we consider ourselves to be like a soul with no body.

Our purity does not happen on Rosh Hashanah or on Sukkos. It does not happen on Pesach or on any other Yom Tov. We are purified only on Yom Kippur – the time in which we are a soul without a body.

The Lesson We Learn from Yom Kippur For The Rest of the Year

The Gemara[1] brings that there are four categories of sin. Some sins require just teshuvah, while worse sins require teshuvah as well as Yom Kippur.

The Kamarna Rebbe asked: If someone sins the day after Yom Kippur, must he wait a whole year until the next Yom Kippur when the effects of his sin are removed? He answered that although Yom Kippur atones one’s sins, it is still possible for a person to make for himself during the year a “mini” Yom Kippur. How? If we understand what the concept of Yom Kippur is, we can learn for the rest of the year how to use this point.

There are people who look at Yom Kippur as “a day on the calendar”, and as soon as Yom Kippur ends, they run to “go build their sukkah” (and maybe even earlier than this)…What remains from this holy day? The beautiful singing, the holy atmosphere, the feelings of elation? We do not mean to detract from the importance of these things, but they are not the purpose of Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is given to us so we can know how to use its power for the rest of the year.

When a person learns how to drive a car, he’s not learning how to drive the car just for one day – he’s learning how to drive for the rest of his life. The same has to go for Yom Kippur. How should we view Yom Kippur? What do we want to take out of it?

The simple way people view Yom Kippur is that we merit that our sins be forgiven. “For on this day you shall be atoned from all your sins, before Hashem you shall be purified.” This is the clear, simple concept of Yom Kippur. We cannot say this isn’t true – but it is still not the inner point of Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is a time in which we take out a lesson for the rest of the year. It is a day in which we can come learn about how to live throughout the rest of the year without sin.

Maybe a person will counter: What does Yom Kippur have to do with the rest of the year? On Yom Kippur we are in shul all day, and it’s almost impossible to sin. The day after Yom Kippur, we go back to routine, we’re back on the street. How is it possible to live throughout the rest of the year without sinning?

However, Yom Kippur is not defined as a day in which it is impossible to sin. Although that is true, it is only the superficial layer of Yom Kippur. The essence of Yom Kippur is that our sins are forgiven, and that we are purified.

We don’t just learn from Yom Kippur how we can avoid sin for the rest of the year. We learn from Yom Kippur how to cleanse ourselves from a sin, after we fail.

A person definitely has to protect himself as much as possible from a sin, but we have to be concerned as well that if we do fall to a sin, that we should know how to deal with the setback, to be able to uplift ourselves even though we have failed.

Compare this to someone who doesn’t get himself car insurance. He’s confident that he won’t get into an accident, so it’s not worth it for him to buy insurance for his car. Now, if this is because he has a high level of emunah, that’s wonderful. But if he doesn’t have a high level of emunah, then all is fine and well only until he gets into an accident. Then he has to pay a heavy sum to fix up his car.

So of course a person has to make sure that he won’t come to sin during the coming year, and that it should be a year without sin, with the help of Hashem. But if chas v’shalom one does fail to a sin, how should he help himself? He shouldn’t wait until next Yom Kippur. He can learn from Yom Kippur, now, how he can purify himself from sin throughout the rest of the year.

Thus, preparing for Yom Kippur is not just a preparation for one day alone. It is essentially how to prepare for the rest of the year – that if we chas v’shalom fall to a sin, we should know how to get up from it and purify ourselves.

However, we need to understand: That would be fine if we are totally a soul during the rest of the year without a body, but don’t we have a body as well? How then can we learn from Yom Kippur as a lesson for the rest of the year, when on Yom Kippur we are totally a soul with no bodily drives, and during the rest of the year we have a body?

In order to answer this question, we need to know what the inner essence of this holy day is.

Disconnecting Completely From Impurity

It is written (Yechezkel 36:25), “And I will sprinkle upon them pure waters.” Hashem sprinkles upon us “water” that purifies us. From a superficial perspective, it seems that this resembles how a person’s impurity from being contaminated to a corpse gets removed by having the parah adumah (red heifer) sprinkled upon him. But the inner depth to this purification process is as follows.

In order for one’s sins to be forgiven by Hashem, it is well-known that he needs three conditions: regretting the sin, confessing the sin, and resolving not to commit the sin again. All of these make sense. Regret makes sense, because if a person doesn’t feel bad that he sinned, why should he be forgiven? Confessing the sin is a little harder to understand why it is necessary; but it also makes sense; and resolving not to sin again is so that he shouldn’t just go back to his old ways.

That is the superficial understanding, but there is greater depth to this.

We can learn from our first redemption, our redemption from Egypt, on how we can disconnect from impurity.

Sins are impurity. The first impurity which the Jewish people went through was in Egypt. When the time came to exit Egypt, they disconnected from the impurity there, and then they were fit to receive the Torah. That was the first cleansing process which the Jewish people went through – a cleansing from the 49 Gates of Impurity.

Hashem commanded the Jewish people that we have no more reason to fear Egypt’s oppression on us, and that we will never see them bear upon us again (Shemos 14:13). What is the depth to this? Simply, it was to calm them, that they shouldn’t fear Egypt. That is true, but the hidden inner point here is that when we left the impurity of Egypt, we gained an ability to totally disconnect from evil and impurity. Because we were promised by Hashem that we will never be oppressed by Egypt again, we were able to totally disconnect from impurity.

Confessing Without Regretting Is Pointless

Rav Dessler zt”l writes that even on Yom Kippur, when a person is saying viduy (confession of his sins), he might be really having a downfall all along, rather than growing from it.

How can this be? Isn’t he fulfilling the mitzvah to say viduy?

The answer to this is that as he is saying viduy, he is remembering his sins and then experiencing them again; and he has some good memories…he hasn’t yet disconnected from them, and he still gets a little nostalgic when he revisits those experiences in his mind. Such a person is ruining himself in the process of trying to fix himself!

Without truly regretting the past sin before one says viduy, the viduy becomes a person’s downfall, and instead of growing spiritually, the person remembers his past sins. For example, if a person rachmana litzlon (May Hashem have mercy) saw an improper sight and he is trying to do teshuvah over it, he thinks about the improper sight again and stumbles again.

But if a person has true regrets over the sin, then every time he remembers the sin, he is filled with pain and remorse. He realizes what he lost by sinning, and it is no longer enjoyable to think about it. When a person loses $100,000, the mere memory of such a loss is very painful. People love to remember their past positive experiences, but no healthy person likes to think about his past negative experiences.

A person committed an aveirah, and he enjoyed himself too while he was at it. If he truly regrets what he did, he will find that what was once joy to him has now turned into pain. It’s like someone who stole a lot of money and ended up in jail. Every time he thinks about the money he stole, he groans in sadness, and he does not look it as a sweet memory. He realizes that he didn’t gain anything by stealing the money, and all he did was that he landed himself in prison.

Thus, if one confesses the sin before he regrets it, it’s pointless, because he still remains with the pleasure he had from the sin and savors it. As he confesses it, he remembers those “good times”, ranchmana litzlan, from the sin. Sure, he has some pain from it too when he remembers it, but he remembers the enjoyment as well. He’s confessing the sin, but while he’s at it he’s enjoying the memories.

In order for a person to have a true viduy, he has to first build up his regret over the sin. And what indeed is that regret supposed to be?

To feel regretful over the sin, a person has to think about how much he lost out on by sinning. By sinning, he gave up eternal rewards. When a person thinks about this deeply, he can come to the recognition that the sin was truly a loss for him, and it pains him to think about it. Now he can confess the sin. Without coming to this feeling of regret, he resembles what is written, “In his mouth and lips he honors Me, but his heart is far from Me.”[2] The possuk is referring to how a person confesses his sins, yet he’s still connected to them.

The Meaning of Regret: Giving Back The Evil Enjoyment

We have thus learned that the depth of regretting a sin is to erase the pleasure that one had from it. When a person sins, on what he is doing teshuvah for? Simply, it is because of the act he committed. This is true, of course, but it is still only the lower aspect of teshuvah. The inner essence of teshuvah, though, is as follows.

In this physical world, nothing can be taken for free. If someone steals, at some point he will have to give it back. If someone took pleasure from this world that he wasn’t supposed to take – it must be given back.

How can one return his wrongful pleasure he had? He has to come to the same amount of pain as the enjoyment he felt from the sin. Only by countering the evil pleasure with true remorse, equal in strength, can one uproot the evil pleasure which he partook from. Without experiencing pain equal to how much he enjoyed it, he has basically stolen pleasure from the Creator. It as Chazal[3] state, “Anyone who enjoys this world without a blessing, it is as if he stole from Hakadosh Baruch Hu.” How much more so does this apply to one who commits a sin and enjoyed himself at it; he has stolen this wrongful pleasure which he was not supposed to have, and it is upon him to fix this up.

When someone steals, he has a mitzvah to return the stolen object; it won’t be enough if he just feels bad that he stole, or that he confesses what he did and resolves never to do it again. He has to actually return what he stole! The same is true with one’s sins toward Hashem. If a person took wrongful pleasure from a sin, it’s not enough to feel bad about it – he has to return what he took. He can return it by feeling pain equal to the amount of enjoyment he had from it.

Hashem created such a thing as Gehinnom – a place where souls have to endure great suffering. Why did Hashem make Gehinnom? Doesn’t He love us? Why does He have to pain us so much with Gehinnom? So that this will force people to regret and confess their sins and resolve never to do it again? Why must there be such thing as Gehinnom?

It is because a person took wrongful pleasure from this world, and he never felt pain at this. He remains with the pleasure he had from the sin, and now he must give it back. He has to feel pain equal to the amount of how much he enjoyed.

If two people sinned, and one of them enjoyed himself more than the other one did during the sin, the one who enjoyed himself will have a worse Gehinnom than the other one who didn’t enjoy it as much. The more evil pleasure one had from this world, the more he needs to undergo Gehinnom.

We do not want to be in Gehinnom. We want to be forgiven. How can we be forgiven? There are no shortcuts. One has to give back to the Creator what he wrongfully took; the way one reaches this is through enduring physical suffering. The sin was pleasurable to the person, and suffering is the opposite of taking pleasure.

On Yom Kippur, there is a mitzvah to feel physical affliction. “And you shall afflict your souls”. Why? Does Hashem want us to suffer? No. It is because we enjoyed the sin, and for one day of the year, we have the opportunity to give back that wrongful pleasure – by physically suffering on this day, the evil pleasure from sins throughout the rest of the year that seeped into our blood is drawn out, and this is how we are purified.

A Day To Disconnect From Physical Pleasure

Now we can understand why there is a concept to be as if we are “dead” on Yom Kippur, which we mentioned in the beginning of this chapter.

If a person on his deathbed is offered an ice cream or some other enticement, the average person would refuse it; even if he loves ice cream. He knows he’s about to die, and he realizes at this moment of truth how futile everything on this world is. A person about to die is disconnected from all physical pleasures, and he realizes with certainty that it’s all worthless.

The Vilna Gaon said that the greatest pain one has when he dies is that as he is being escorted to the Heavenly court, he sees all that he could have gained, and all that he has lost. He sees that he took pleasure from all the wrong places, and that he gave up the real pleasure he could have had.

A dead person can be defined as someone who doesn’t feel alive, someone who has no real enjoyment. “A dead person cannot feel anything.”[4]

Thus, if a person wants to prepare himself properly for Yom Kippur, he needs to be like someone who is dead – in other words, he needs to return all the wrongful pleasure he had during the year, especially forbidden pleasure. If he is on a higher level, he fulfills the words of Chazal: “Sanctify yourself with even what is permissible to you.” But the first thing one must do is to begin by returning the wrongful pleasure he had from his sins. If he spoke lashon hora and enjoyed himself while he was at it, if he ate something of a questionable hechsher and enjoyed it – he has to return that pleasure.

Someone who is level-headed builds for himself a way of life for the rest of the year in which he will be able to return all the wrongful pleasure.

“Praiseworthy is the man who is afflicted by Hashem, and who learns from Your Torah.”[5] Who is someone that “learns from Your Torah”? This is someone who sits and learns Torah, even though it’s hard for him (for example, when he’s tired); but he understands well that by enduring pain for the Torah, he purifies himself from the evil pleasure he had from sin, and in this way he returns the evil pleasure to Hashem.

Yom Kippur is a day in which a person has no physical enjoyment. Any pleasure one has on this day – for someone who does – is pleasure of the soul. The only physical pleasure one can have on this day is to smell spices, but even this is not really physical pleasure; it is well-known that smell is a sense of the soul, not of the body.

The concept of Yom Kippur is, firstly, to disconnect from all physical pleasure. What is left for us to do? We have to fix up what we did wrong this past year; for this we have a mitzvah of teshuvah, which is to regret the sin, to confess the sin and to resolve never to do the sin again. By regretting the sin, one can erase the evil pleasure which he had, since he now has pain over it.

The Pain Must Equal the Pleasure

Now we are able to understand how it can be that a person goes through Yom Kippur so many times in his life – expressing regret over their sins, confessing them, and resolving never to do the sin again…yet a person does not feel that his teshuvah amounted to anything. Why do people feel this way?

It is because people “regret” their sins only superficially. They make a list of all their committed sins and then express regret over them…although this can go under the category of regret, a person still has to come to a situation in which the amount of pain he has over the sin is equal to the amount of pleasure he had from the sin.

There is a well-known statement of Rav Nachman of Bresslov: “With my chassidim, I have succeeded in at least taking away their pleasure from sinning. I can’t stop anyone from sinning, but at least I have helped them get rid of the pleasure they had from it.”

The truth is that Chazal state that ever since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, a person no longer enjoys committing a sin. Hashem desires that we be able to do teshuvah easily, so He made it easier for us by taking away a lot of pleasure from committing a sin.[6]

Thus, the inner point of teshuvah for us is to first understand that the problem is not the sin itself we committed, rather the connection that we still feel toward it. As Chazal[7] say, “He is attached to it like a dog.” Why does a person feel attached to his sins? It is because since he enjoyed it, he has become attached to it. He has to uproot this connection by regretting it. After that he can have a true viduy, because when he remembers his sins as he regrets them, instead of remembering how much he enjoyed it, he feels pain over it. And when he resolves never to commit the sin again, it will be a true commitment. Without true regrets, it is pointless for him to resolve never to do the sin again, and it will be like resolving that he will separate himself from his own foot – a decision that he will of course never carry out.

When a person is still connected to evil, it has become a part of him; if he resolves never to sin again, it will not be enough, since he still feels connected to the sin. What can he do to disconnect from the sin? Just deciding not to sin again will not help, unless he has disconnected from the pleasure of the sin. Only by disconnecting from the pleasure of the sin will it become easier for him to hold onto his resolutions.

If someone is in a place where he is in danger, the best solution is to get out of there! That was what Yosef Hatzaddik did when he was tempted to sin. He ran away from the place. If a person is still connected to evil, to the pleasure of a sin – either he has to run away from the evil, or he must chase out the evil from within him.

This is the deep difference between a righteous person and a wicked person. A righteous person may have committed many sins, but he has truly done teshuvah over them – he has separated from the evil enjoyment he had. He doesn’t want to return to that place or ever feel connected to it. But a wicked person is essentially someone who, although he has done teshuvah, he still has some “good old memories” from his past…

Purifying Ourselves

This is essentially what it means to become purified on Yom Kippur from the “pure waters” sprinkled upon us, which we mentioned in the beginning from the possuk.

When a person gets dirty and sweaty from a long day, he can take a shower that will remove all the dirt from him and make him clean. The same can be said of a person who wants to come and cleanse himself from sin. Although the evil deed has been committed a long time ago, the pleasure from it has remained, and the person is dirtied from it. Just like the body becomes dirtied, so does the soul become dirtied from the pleasure of a sin. By removing the pleasure one had from the sin, the soul becomes cleansed by “pure waters.”

We are taught by Chazal[8] that “A person who sins and [only] confesses and doesn’t return to it, to what is he compared to? To a person who immerses [in a mikveh] and is holding a sheretz (insect) in his hand; even if he immerses in all of the water in the world, his immersion does not count.” It’s possible that a person goes to the mikveh on Yom Kippur and immerses himself 310 times, but it can all be worthless! If he never disconnected from the pleasure of the sin, going to the mikveh will be ineffective. His soul is still connected to the sin.

This is the secret behind the custom to go to a cold mikveh on Erev Yom Kippur; to remind us that we need to be “dead” – to disconnect from evil pleasure. Yet even this is not enough. One has to feel personally in his soul that he is “dead”, so to speak. A dying person has no interest in this world’s pleasures, because he knows he is about to leave them eternally.

If a person would give up on this world’s pleasures, he would no longer be interested in them, and he can be confident that he won’t return to those pleasures. He is using the power to be “dead”, in a holy way – like the words of the Rambam, that one has to “kill himself in the tents of Torah.”

It’s possible that a person is sitting all day in the beis midrash, yet he’s really living outside of it: someone who only wants pleasures that come from the outside world. Someone who “kills himself in the tents of Torah” means someone who gives up his desires for externalities. This is a Torah that purifies him; this is the mikveh that purifies him – when a person erases from himself the pleasures of this world.

Erasing the Connection To Evil

If we understand these words, we are able to understand a lot better how a person can take Yom Kippur with him for the rest of the year. On the calendar, Yom Kippur is only once a year – but there is a way for a person to always have Yom Kippur. How?

Let’s say a person, rachmana litzlan (May G-d have mercy one him) falls to an aveirah (act of sin). What should he do now? The first thing he needs to know is that he is connected to the evil act, and that is the problem. His job is to uproot that connection, to uproot the desire to do something evil.

It is written, ”On my bed at nights, I sought that which my soul desired.”[9] Sometimes a person isn’t aware of what he wants during the daytime, but at night, he can begin to see what exactly he likes…

One time the Chofetz Chaim had a dream in which he won the lottery and became very rich. When he woke up the next day, he fasted. When his students asked him why he is fasting, he replied that he had a bad dream, and he told them what he had dreamed about. The students asked him that it doesn’t say in the Gemara that you have to fast over such a dream. The Chofetz Chaim replied, “Either way, it’s a bad dream. If it really happens and I do win the lottery, being rich is a test that I don’t want to face. And even if the dream isn’t true and I never become rich, how did I ever to come to such a dream in the first place? Why am I dreaming about becoming rich?!”

The Chofetz Chaim was scared that his soul is still connected material interests.

Let’s say a person lives in a modest apartment with only two and a half rooms, but he really wants to live in a mansion; his desires are to live in a mission, and that is what his soul is connected to. The fact that he lives in a modest apartment doesn’t show his true level, because deep down he wishes to live in luxury; those are his true desires.

A person can be sitting in the beis midrash, but he’s thinking about Switzerland. His desires are to travel the world – and that is what he really wants in life…

It’s possible that a person is sitting at the Shabbos table and giving mussar to his children, but deep down in his heart, he wishes that his wife would just serve the next course already…

In other words, a person can feel a certain way about something – but his thoughts and words are saying something else. He is living a life which, on the outside, seems to be quite alright; but if we check out his heart and what he really wants, he is like someone going to the mikveh holding a sheretz, which is a pointless immersion. When a person still has desires for the pleasures of this world, he won’t be able to get purified from Yom Kippur.

True Pleasure

What we are saying is a clear concept. The inner point of life is to derive a vitality from living, to experience true pleasure. On Rosh HaShanah, we asked for life – for true life: to enjoy serving Hashem, to enjoy Torah, to enjoy davening, to enjoy the mitzvos, to enjoy having emunah. On Yom Kippur, we are now coming to purify ourselves from a false kind of life.

What do we mean by purifying ourselves from a false kind of life? We do not mean only that we must purify our actions. Our actions are only the external layer of what we need to accomplish; although the first thing we need to do is better our actions, this alone will not be enough. Even if a person is zocheh to sit and learn all day in the beis midrash, and he tries to do all the mitzvos, he might still be among those of whom it is said that “their hearts are far from me.”

There are people whose hearts are far from Hashem; what does this mean? It means that if we come to a person and ask him what he wants – money or wisdom (just like Hashem came to Shlomo Hamelech and asked him this question), and the person answers, “I want a lot of money, so like this I can sit and learn forever” – such an answer reflects a life of utter falsity.

There is a known story that the late wealthy donor Mr. Reichmann once asked Rav Shach zt”l “Who will have greater Olam HaBa – me, for supporting so many yeshivos, or the Rosh Yeshivah?”, to which Rav Shach replied with a smile, “I don’t know which of us will have a greater share in Olam HaBa – I cannot tell you what will be there, because I was never there. But I can tell you that I am here on this world, and I have a better life on this world than you do. This is because Chazal say, “An increase of assets is an increase of worry.” A person who truly sits and learns Torah, however – he is someone who really enjoys life!”

Life is really a true pleasure which Hashem has given us. But just like water can’t be added to a cup filled to the top with soda, so is it impossible for a person to receive the true pleasure when his heart is brimming with all kinds of negative pleasures. The pleasure of spirituality and Torah cannot enter one’s heart when it is already filled with evil pleasure from sin.

Chazal state that “A person merits Torah if he vomits the milk he nursed from his mother.”[10] In other words, a person has to vomit his physical pleasures and in its place enter the spiritual pleasures; this is the avodah of Yom Kippur: to vomit all our physical pleasures! We need to erase both our pleasures from sin as well as our pleasures from even permitted desires[11], which attach us to the materialism of this world.

To Know What We Want To Take Out of Yom Kippur

When it comes Motzei Yom Kippur and a person wants to know if he was purified or not from this Yom Kippur, he has to check himself inside. If he feels less of a pull towards worldly pleasures, this is a sign that he became purified on Yom Kippur. But if he still feels just as pulled toward materialism after Yom Kippur is over as he did before Yom Kippur, he is like someone who fell into the mikveh without having any intention to be purified by its waters.

The words here are clear and sharp. Before Yom Kippur, it is upon us to understand how we must enter it – and how we must leave it.

When a person goes to the supermarket, he goes in with an empty shopping cart and intends to exit the store with a full one. People want to come out with something from Yom Kippur, but do they know what indeed they want to take out of it?

If a person lives life in an unclear way, on Yom Kippur he will ask for things as well that are unclear. When the end of Yom Kippur comes, he will not be clear in what he came out with.

A person has to know before Yom Kippur what he truly wants. He shouldn’t fool anyone; it is between him and his Creator – he has to know the truth, and to see if he is disconnecting from materialistic pleasures. Understandably, one’s human efforts alone will not be enough, and one will need to daven to Hashem for help that his heart become purified.

Yet, there is a step that comes before this. In for the heart to become purified, we first need to expel the evil that lurks in it.

The second set of Luchos (tablets) was given on Yom Kippur, because of the purity inherent on this day. If not for the purity of this day, the Luchos wouldn’t have been given.

The first thing a person needs to ask for on Yom Kippur (as well as the last thing) is that Hashem should purify his heart; in other words, that his connection to all materialistic and forbidden pleasures be erased from his heart, that Hashem should take them away from within him. After this, one is able to be purified with the “pure waters” – he can receive purity from Hashem to come upon him, in that his pleasures in life will come from true, inner pleasure.

One has to begin ascending the ladder of levels to be on, step by step.

A True Desire for A Spiritual Life

How does a person disconnect from evil? It is very possible that a person wants to disconnect, and he knows that he does bad things and recognizes evil, but he is still attached to the sin like a dog who laps up its own vomit. What can a person do?

Once there was a story with Baba Sali zt”l, who would often host guests in his house; there was a student who humbly said he cannot eat there, because he resolved never to eat anywhere outside his own house. Baba Sali said to the student that in his house, he is protected by Heaven that no forbidden food ever enters one’s mouth there.

How did Baba Sali reach such a level? Of course, he was a tzaddik and a very holy person, but it can also be because it is brought in the sefarim hakedoshim that if someone truly resolves in his heart that he would rather die rather than eat something forbidden, he is assured that he will be protected by Heaven that he will never stumble.

What Baba Sali reached was an inner kind of protection. When a person is ready to sacrifice himself over the holy Torah and to keep it no matter what, he sanctifies himself a little – and he is sanctified above in Heaven.

Let us take from this the following point. If a person truly wants to disconnect from this world, there is no other way except to fulfill the words of the Sages, “The words of Torah do not exist except in one who kills himself over them.”[12]

The question is: Is a person ready to die for the Torah, or not? If Eliyahu HaNavi would come to a person and reveal to him that if he dies, he will receive the understanding of the whole Torah – what would a person say? If a person isn’t ready to die for Torah, it shows that he values his own life more than Torah. If he is ready to die for the Torah, then it shows that Torah to him is more important than his life – because he considers the Torah to be life.

When a person realizes that life has no meaning if he is devoid of spirituality, he enters an inner world of purity. But if a person is simply looking for “tips” and “ideas” on how he can get by the Yom HaDin and merit a good judgment – then nothing can be done for him!

There is one test a person has to pass, and this says it all: Is one prepared to give up this materialistic lifestyle for a spiritual one? Or does he want to have the best of both worlds…?

We are living today in a world that is full of mixed up values. It used to be very clear to all the difference between a Torah home and a non-Torah based home. People in the past were either pursuing materialism, or spirituality; it was “either or”.

(There were a few tzaddikim who were wealthy too and lived like kings – not because they indulged, but because they resembled the wealth of Rebbi, who knew how to live in luxury yet be totally disconnected from it; we cannot learn from this practically, though).

But today, when we walk into a Jewish house, we cannot tell clearly if it is a Kolel man’s house or a working man’s house! We cannot tell if he is a wealthy philanthropist or a poverty-stricken individual. Everything looks basically the same. The Torah of today by many people isn’t entirely Torah – it is a Torah mixed with other things….

If a person wants to merit that next year should be a true kind of life, he needs to come to a decision, in his soul, that he really wants to be a ben Torah; that he really wants to live a life of spirituality.

Of course one has to eat, drink and clothe himself as usual; but the question is, what does he really want in life? Let’s say he wishes deep down that somebody would come and support him for life, and this way he can sit and learn forever, undisturbed; and that this is his true, innermost desire in life. Still, it doesn’t show that he’s prepared to sacrifice for a spiritual kind of life. If someone would come to him and say, “I will take care of all your physical needs on this world – you just live a life of total spirituality,” would he indeed accept this?

If the answer is “yes”, that’s excellent; but if a person isn’t ready to accept this, then he’s obviously not prepared to disconnect from materialism.

It’s very easy to say it, but it has to be a resolution that one makes deep inside his soul. Preparing for Yom Kippur is essentially a preparation of how to live a life of a soul, without a body. Don’t we have a body, though? Yes, we do have a body, but what we mean is that we need to resolve in ourselves that we want a kind of life in which we live through our soul.

This will of course be an avodah for us. It is impossible to be perfect in what we are describing here, but it has to become our aspiration. We need to take these words and draw them close to our hearts – that we should understand the goal of life; to understand that our purity can only come from disconnecting from superficial pleasures, and that instead of superficial pleasure, we need inner pleasure to replace it.

May Hashem merit that all of us be signed and sealed for a good year – that our hearts should only yearn for Hakadosh Baruch Hu, to yearn for His Torah, and that we should yearn to serve Him.

[1] Yoma 86a

[2] Yeshayahu 29: 13

[3] Berachos 35b

[4] Shabbos 13b

[5] Tehillim 94: 12

[6] In Utilizing Your Daas #04 (Separating The Imagination) it is explained that the pleasure in a sin stems from imagination and not from the act of sin itself.

[7] Sotah 3b

[8] Yalkut Shimeoni, Mishlei, 961

[9] Shir HaShirim 3:1

[10] Yalkut Shimeoni, Mishlei, 964

[11] The author is probably referring to extreme pleasures that are permitted; that although in essence they are permitted, when pursued in an extreme way, pleasures become unhealthy. In “Getting To Know Your Self”, it is explained that while pleasure is a basic and necessary force in our soul, if pleasure is endlessly pursued with no self-restraint, it is clearly extreme and unhealthy.

[12] Yalkut Shimeoni, 762.

Embracing Judgment

It’s natural to recoil from the judgment of Rosh HaShanah. Thinking about “who will live” and “who will die” can cause spikes in our anxiety levels. But ignoring the judgment is a mistake.

Anxiety is a natural signal that there’s a problem to be addressed. It becomes an issue when it emotionally destablizes us, but when anxiety drives positive action – it’s beneficial.

The annual Day of Judgment informs us that how we live our life matters. We can live a great life of service, love and connection to people and the King of the Universe. To achieve that we need to reduce the distractions of self-centeredness, laziness and uncontrolled desire.

Rosh HaShanah is the time when we’re awakened to take steps in the direction of greatness. When we make that choice we’re guaranteed a favorable judgment.

May we all be blessed with the wisdom and strength to make that life-giving commitment – resulting in an inscription in the “Book of Life.”

Rosh Hashanah, Mussar and Chassidus

Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the Bilvavi and the Getting to Know Yourself (Soul, Emotions, Home) seforim has
a free download available of Yomim Noraim Talks here.

Yiras Hashem vs. Ahavas Hashem

Rosh HaShanah is both a day of Yiras Hashem and Ahavas Hashem. It is a day of Yiras Hashem because it is the Yom HaDin, but it is also a day of Ahavas Hashem – as it is written, “Seek Hashem where He is found.”

It is well-known that mussar sefarim deal mainly with Yiras Hashem, while the teachings of Chassidim deal with Ahavas Hashem, with the closeness to Hashem that lays in something. Of course, it is not possible to have one without the other. We cannot have Yiras Hashem without Ahavas Hashem, nor can we have Ahavas Hashem without Yiras Hashem. So what is mussar, and what is Chassidus?

It is written, “Sur mera (Stay away from evil), v’aseh tov (And do good)”. Mussar focuses on avoiding evil. Chassidus, though, focuses on how we can come to the good. “Stay away from evil” personifies Mussar. Chassidus, though, personifies what is written, “Do good.”

Mussar focuses on divesting ourselves from evil, while Chassidus focuses on actually arriving at the good that we are striving for.

With Chassidus, a person focuses on “doing good” (focusing one one’s closeness to Hashem), and that itself removes a person from evil. The Baal Shem Tov said that although “Stay away from evil” seems to come before “do good,” really, a person has to remove evil by doing good.

For example, let’s say a person has gaavah (haughtiness). How does he work on this bad middah (or any bad middah)? With Mussar, a person focuses on how bad it is to be haughty. But with Chassidus, a person is able to remove his haughtiness by thinking about how it distances him from being close to Hashem.

Yiras HaOnesh Vs. Yiras HaRomemus

On Yom HaDin, there are two kinds of yirah: yiras haonesh (fear of punishment) and yiras haromemus (fear of Hashem’s greatness). The first kind of fear is possible even from a human king, but the second kind of yirah is only possible toward Hashem. On Rosh HaShanah, the kind of yirah to have – the way of Chassidus – is to have yiras haromemeus, fear of Hashem’s greatness; that Yom HaDin is not simply to fear punishment, but to be afraid of being distanced from closeness to Hashem. With Chassidus, the person isn’t being afraid of the judgment of Yom HaDin, but of the fear of not being close to Hashem.

The closeness to Hashem on Rosh HaShanah that everyone can grasp is that Hashem exists. All of Aseres Yemei Teshuvah are days of closeness to Hashem, but Rosh HaShanah is the climax of this closeness – because now, a person is standing before the King in judgment; not because the person is afraid of the judgment, but because a person feels such a closeness to Hashem during judgment.

The Arizal said that when a person cries suddenly on Rosh HaShanah and he doesn’t know why, it is a sign that he is being judged at that time. What does this mean? Does it mean that he is scared of being judged, or does it mean that he is having yiras haromemus – being afraid of distanced from closeness to Hashem?

When a person cries suddenly feels himself crying on Rosh HaShanah, it is a fear of not being close to Hashem. This is the way of Chassidus – it is not a fear of punishment, but a fear of being distanced from the King. It is a yiras haromemus.

But the way of Mussar is different. Mussar is yiras haonesh – that the more a person thinks about judgment, the more afraid he grows of the punishment, because he is aware of the reality of sin.

Avodah Vs. Emunah

These are two general, root ways to serve Hashem – Mussar and Chassidus. On Rosh HaShanah, these two ways of Avodas Hashem take on an even more detailed meaning. Let us explain the difference between these two ways.

With Mussar, a person sees himself on this world, and he wants to become connected to Hashem in Heaven. He has things which are holding him back, and he needs to remove these obstacles to get there. Chassidus, however, is a different viewpoint: a person comes from above, from Heaven – but he has something dividing him from Hashem. With Chassidus, the person is already connected to Heaven – he only needs to stay away from things that will take away his connection.

With Chassidus, a person doesn’t have to come up with a new relationship to Hashem – all he has to do is protect it, by avoiding sin. It’s like two friends who are loyal to each other – it’s not that they have to renew their friendship; they just have to protect their friendship by not betraying each other. But the view of Mussar is to renew the friendship when it gets shaky.

The depth behind these two ways is that Mussar is based on Avodah, and Chassidus is based on Emunah. We will explain this.

The view of Chassidus is that there is already a relationship with Hashem, but the person has to reveal it more. Of course, even with Chassidus a person has to know that Avodah has to come before Emunah — but the person knows that he is already connected to Hashem, and he merely has to protect this relationship and reveal it more.

But the view of Mussar is that a person isn’t yet close to Hashem, so he has to acquire a relationship with Hashem by working to get there. He has to build this relationship. Mussar focuses on the “reality” – that he has many sins and shortcomings which he must remove, in order to build up a closeness to Hashem.

The Dangers in Each Way

Each way has its dangers. The danger in Chassidus is that a person might come to imagine that he’s already at a high level, and the danger with Mussar is that he can lose his aspirations to go higher, since he deals with “reality.”

The Goal Is Always The Same

So Mussar and Chassidus have the same goal: to reach closeness to Hashem. The goal is always the same, but the only difference is how to begin: With Mussar, a person must feel that he isn’t yet close to Hashem and he must build up a relationship with Him, and with Chassidus, a person already feels close to Hashem, but he must reveal it more and protect it.

The Baal Shem Tov was niftar on Shavuos, while the Vilna Gaon was niftar on Sukkos. There were those who asked that is should’ve been the other way around: the Baal Shem Tov, who fought for Ahavas Hashem, should have been niftar on Sukkos, which is the happiest time of the year – and the Vilna Gaon, who fought against Chassidus, should have died on Shavuos, the time of mainly learning Torah! But the answer to this is a deep point: both of them had both Yiras Hashem and Ahavas Hashem! The Baal Shem Tov and the Vilna Gaon only differed in where a person should start in his Avodas Hashem.

The difference between Mussar and Chassidus is not about what to do in Avodas Hashem. It is only a question of where to start with and how to get there.

Body Viewpoint Vs. Soul Viewpoint

The Maharal says that when a person sins, it is only mikreh – a “coincidence”. What this means is that a person is a soul, but he is covered with a body. When a person sins, the body of the person has become dirtied; with sin, the person’s soul is covered in dirty garments, but the soul itself always remains pure.

With the viewpoint of Mussar, the person is his free will. When a person chooses to sin, he has become dirtied – his essence has become dirtied and he must fix himself. But Chassidus has the viewpoint of the soul – that when a person sins, his soul still remains pure; only his power of free will has become damaged, and he must fix this, but the person himself still remains pure even after sin.

Closeness Vs. Fear

On Rosh HaShanah by davening, we say, “Hayom haras olam, hayom yaamid bamishpat” – “Today is the birth of the world, today is the day we stand in judgment.” These are two different aspects of Rosh HaShanah to focus on.

Chassidus focuses on Hayom haras olam – the fact that Rosh HaShanah is the birth of the world, and that Hashem is nearby and we must be afraid of being distanced from our closeness with Him. Mussar focuses on Hayom yaamid bamishpat – the judgment itself, fear of actual punishment for the reality of our sins.

Each person has his own way

It is not an in issue of which way is more truthful. Each person must serve Hashem according to the way he is supposed to, to serve Hashem from his shoresh haneshamah – the root of his soul.

Hashem should merit all of us that each person should find the way that is suitable to his shoresh haneshamah, so that each of us can reach the Yom HaDin the way we are supposed to – each to his

How Kiruv and the Baal Teshuva Movement has Changed

Someone asked me online why it seems that kiruv and the “Baal Teshuva Movement” isn’t as popular as it was in the 1990s. I replied to this person with the following:

I can only speak based on my humble observations. I am not a kiruv professional or “in the trenches”, in fact I don’t even own a shovel to help dig the trench. I do feel that kiruv is important and I have the highest regard for those in the field, they work non-stop and often without recognition for their efforts. I think the kiruv focus has shifted over the years, at least in North America, and that is why your perception about kiruv is that there is less going on. There are probably a few reasons why kiruv has changed over time, including our attention span being less due to the internet (it’s hard for people to sit for a two hour kiruv seminar), easy access to Torah content (in print and online), and the shift to less in-real-life interaction due to more time online (for example, if more people work remotely or in a hybrid model then there are less opportunities for “lunch and learn” programs). Here is a pedestrian breakdown as I see it:

Chabad- They are still at it in the most amazing way. Shuls, C-Teen, the Jewish Leaning Institute, active Sunday school programs all attract non-frum Jews, in addition to their campus and young professional work. Chabad is often the first address people hear of when they ask about how go learn more about Judaism. If you or I are not going to a Chabad shul then it’s likely we are not seeing how successful they are in kiruv.

Shuls- In the 1990s there shuls doing active outreach and that was part of their mission statements. Pre-internet if there wasn’t an outreach kollel or an active Chabad in a community a shul was the destination for kiruv. Today that has shifted. There are more learning and kiruv opportunities outside of shuls and there is more competition for shuls to keep and service members. Unless a shul has an affiliated outreach program then the shul as an entry point for kiruv is fading fast.

Campus Kiruv- 30 years ago, aside from Chabad and some Orthodox staff at random Hillel locations “campus kiruv” wasn’t an industry. Now there are lots of Hillel locations with someone frum on staff connected to OLAMI or the OU’s JLIC (Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus) or independent OLAMI, JLIC, or MAOR affiliated campus kiruv programs in addition to established Chabad on campus. These programs are extremely great at attracting students in large numbers and due to some of them them being staffed by more “yeshivish” people when these students become more involved in Yiddishkeit and/or frum life they are more likely to affiliate at kollels or shuls, many of them being ones that you and I might not attend (plus in most cities the number of minyanim has also grown since the 1990s, so you or I don’t always see those new kiruv-anchored faces in our regularly attended shuls).

Kollels & affiliated minyanim- Today major Jewish cities boast multiple kollels. In the 1990s many of these were “outreach” kollels, but as time moved forward some of these kollel programs pivoted and also focused on inreach, so that means more staff to make sure outreach is taking place (I happen to be a fan of this trend). Also those kollels often give birth to affiliated minyanim for the people they attract. The long lasting effect of outreach in kollels is powerful and in some cities there are neighborhoods and shuls that are direct results of those kiruv efforts.

YJP (young Jewish professionals): This model of kiruv wasn’t nearly as active in the 90s as it is now. This is both a natural growth from campus kiruv as well as a result of offering creative social religious programming to young adults. Aside from creative Shabbas events (like a Chabad sponsored outdoor minyanim or rooftop dinners with open bars) or social events around the Yom Tovim groups or OLAMI sponsored meet-ups and learning sessions with young Jewish professionals and frum business “mentors”. These young Jewish professionals , as they become more connected to Yiddisheit are also being directed to shuls and minyanim that you might not go to. Also, as these participants get more connected to Yiddishkeit and eventually come to a shul they might already be frum and just blend in.

Internet and distance learning – The web has made if possible for people to grow Jewishly and still not have to step into a shul or kiruv program. In the 1990s programs like NJOP’s Read Hebrew America and the Crash Course in Hebrew and Basic Judaism were draws for the non-orthodox to come and learn. Aish HaTorah’s Discovery programs were brought to community after community and grew in crowds. Today those programs don’t have to be in-person. Why would someone today go to an Orthodox shul to learn about Judaism when they can watch videos or listen to shiurim/classes/lectures online? There is a non-orthodox organization that is focusing solely on attracting Jews who want Jewish content but don’t necessarily want to be confined to brick-and-mortar institutional Judaism. They are successfully attracting millennials who don’t feel a need to affiliate with congregations. They offer podcasts and online videos courses so that participate can learn on their own terms. This fills a void, but a program like this, does draw people away from traditional kiruv efforts. There is a popular online platform that does an incredible job at delivering quality Jewish digital content and even has a Daf Yomi podcast. They are a full digital ecosystem and there are seasoned Orthodox writers who help create content, however it also removes the face-to-face factor that is traditional used in Jewish adult education. If there is a way to connect Jewishly via the web, then those people will never interact with kiruv professionals. On the other hand, there is creative Jewish content from organizations like Meaningful Minute, 18Forty, Thank You Hashem, Chabad, and Aish HaTorah (just to name a few) that is attracting and enhancing the lives of Jews in multiple camps (both frum and non-frum). In addition to this programs like Partners In Torah and TorahMates connect many non-afflicted Jews with people to learn with one-on-one either by phone or by video chat. We, as frum people in our communities don’t often see the growth and commitment to Judaism that happens with participants in these learning programs.

Competition- Other denominations within Judaism are offering more Jewishly enriching educational options than ever before. There is a text-based beis midrash-style learning program in the non-Orthodox world in Chicago, so I am sure it’s happening in other places. If someone can find spirituality and intellectual stimulation without having to follow certain Torah guidelines, then why become orthodox? This is a big challenge for those in kiruv, I think.

Schools- Also connected to the last point about competition is the rise of non-orthodox Jewish schools. It used to be that there were only Orthodox day schools in cities and some parents who were not Orthodox would send their kids there because Jewish education was important to them and, by default, the Orthodox community offered the only option. This was a major entry point for kiruv and I personally know dozens of families that became frum due to sending their kids to an Orthodox day school. That’s changed over time due to the growth and demand for non-Orthodox day school options.

There is one more reason why I think the shift in kiruv has changed and might seem like there is less kiruv happening these days. It’s a reason I find difficult to write about. It’s personal and, by my own admission, I am part of the problem since every one of us has a responsibility to be ambassadors of Yiddishkeit. Previously I’ve had “Partners In Torah” and at one point I learned with a group of three passionate Reform guys my own age for over a year. I’ve also attempted to invest in my own family, I have aspired to be a good frum role model for my kids, and have tried to grow in my own Avodas Hashem. The demands of life shift over time and I chose to pivot toward my own home. I could be more involved in kiruv activism, but I am not. Here and there I try to do what I can both in real life and digitally, but I know I can do more. I hope and daven that this will change at some point.

Again, I am not at all a kiruv professional and those in kiruv (and chinuch) are doing an avodah that is changing lives, but I think that even with a shift in the kiruv landscape over the past 30+ years we have seen an explosion of experiential education that fuels both outreach and inreach. We live in an age when both non-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews have access to Challah Bake events, the Siyum HaShas, concerts or a kumzitz in a shul, beis midrash programs in shuls, kids going to kiruv summer camps, women learning initiatives, more organized daily learning programs, more inspirational classes, and more people wanting to connect and learn. The emphasis that our community puts on real life Jewish content offers a tangible way to live Judaism and as we promote the amazing Torah, Avodah, and Gemilus Chasadim in own communities the world takes notice.

You Don’t Desire? Then Yearn to Desire!

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz zt”L-

For the Mitzvah that I am prescribing to you today is not beyond your grasp or remote from you…Rather it is something that is very close to you. It is in your mouth and in your heart so that you can accomplish it.’   -Devarim 30: 11, 14

While the closeness of “the Mitzvah” is described as being in our hearts and mouths it is not said to be in our hands. Rav Tzadok, the Kohen of Lublin, draws an essential lesson about the limitations of human free will from this omission. The precedent for this lesson can be found in the Torahs dissimilar narratives of Avraham Avinus leitmotif.

The hospitality Chesed that Avraham Avinu offered to human travelers is well documented in Chazal and yet in the Written Torah there is only the scantest allusion to it (VaYeetah Eishel-Bereshis 21:33).  In marked contrast the hospitality that he extended to the three angels is described in great detail in the Written Torah.  This is especially odd inasmuch as the Angels were only pretending to eat, drink and rest and needed neither the physical rest and recreation provided to them nor the monotheistic lessons that diners at Avraham Avinus table learned. Avraham genuinely wanted to do kindness to the angels just as he did to all of his visitors. But in reality he did not provide for any of the needs of these special guests.  His desire to do Chesed went unrealized. But the Torah places the greatest emphasis precisely on the episode of desired Chesed, in which no actual Chesed took place.

In truth all that HaShem demands of us, all that is really within the parameters of our autonomy and freedom, is our will, our wants, our desire to do good as expressed in our hearts and our mouths. As the Gemara in Sanhedrin 106B says:  HaKadosh Baruch Hu Leeba Boyee –HaShem wants the heart. Whereas the actual realization of our good will, wants and desires, the actual execution of the Mitzvah comes about only through Seyata DiShmaya,-Divine assistance.  As our posuk says; the Mitzvah… is very close to you…in your mouth and in your heart. However you will need HaShems help so that you can accomplish it.’

L’Dovid HaShem Ohree V’Yishee  is the “anthem” of the month of Elul and the Days of Awe. In it we find the problematic verse (Tehilim 27:4) “One thing have I asked of HaShem,  I will ask it; that I may dwell in the house of HaShem all the days of my life, to behold the pleasantness of HaShem , and to inspect  His palace.” Once the Meshorer-Psalmist declared that “One thing have I asked of HaShem” why not continue immediately with what is being asked for?  “that I may dwell in the house of al HaShem all the days of my life etc. “ Why repeat “I will ask it”? The blatant, superfluous redundancy of the posuk demands a clarification.

The Rebbe Reb Binim of Przysucha (P’shischa) explains that what the Meshorer has asked of HaShem is NOT to dwell in the house of HaShem all the days of his life but that dwelling in the house of  HaShem become his fondest desire, truly the one thing that he seeks, asks and prays for. He is asking to ask, desiring to desire, wanting to want.  The one thing that I have asked of HaShem is that Ohsah Ahvakesh…that this/it is what I will ask and pray for.

Our hearts are not always in the right place. Perhaps when we were young, or young in our Judaism, as long as we were shtaiging-progressing in our spiritual lives we could get by with very little materially. Even in our youths it is rare that dwelling in the house of HaShem all the days of our lives is our one and only request and desire. Instead it is just one, albeit a major one, of our many desires, wants and needs. Then setbacks, disillusionments, disappointments, societal and family pressures all conspired to distort our value systems and rearrange our fondest dreams and desires. We may have become more interested in maintaining and amplifying our creature comforts and financial security than in finishing Sha”s, davening ecstatically or creating a new Chesed organization that would alleviate the suffering of hundreds. In a word, we are no longer sincerely asking to dwell in the house of HaShem at all. So, whether young or old, during these days of Divine Mercy in particular we echo the prayer of the Meshorer twice daily. We ask to ask nothing else, desire to desire exclusively, want to want monomaniacally all that is good, kind, holy and exalted.

The Kohen of Lublin amplifies the Rebbe Reb Binims reading of Pslam 27. It is not that the Meshorer was trying to avoid overplaying his hand in prayer by asking to actually dwell in the house of HaShem etc. or just “having an off day”. It is that, truth be told, we can never ask for more than correct, ethical and holy yearnings.  The exercise of our free will is limited to what we want and desire and does not extend to what we do and accomplish. The mitzvah is in our hearts and mouths.  The actualization of Mitzvahs is HaShems domain, not that of human beings.

Adapted from Pri Tzadik Parshas VaYera Paragraph 10 (Page 29A)

An installment in the series From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK

Elul is a Great Time to Work on Kavanna

Elul is the Time to Start on the Little Things
At the beginning of Shaarei Teshuva (The Gates of Teshuva), Rabbeinu Yonah teaches that if we make our efforts in Teshuva, then Hashem will assist us in return, even to the extent of reaching the highest level of loving Him. But we have to make our efforts. Rabbi Welcher says that Elul is the time to start making efforts on the little things as we work up to dealing with some of our bigger issues.

Kavanna is a Big “Little Thing”

Where does kavanna fit in? On the one hand, we all know how difficult it is to daven a full Shomoneh Esrai with good kavanna, but on the other hand saying one brocha or doing one mitzvah with the proper kavanna is something that all of us can achieve. Being focused on Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh this year has shown me the importance of kavanna and awakened me to the fact they we can spend our whole lives involved in Torah, Mitzvos, Tefillah and Chesed, but if we are not focused on Hashem during our day to day lives, then we are not properly building our souls and achieving our purpose in this world and the next. The obvious place to start building is when we’re involved in Hashem focused activities like davening and mitzvos.

Kavanna during Mitzvos
There are three basic thoughts to have in mind before performing a mitzvah:
1) Hashem is the one who commanded this mitzvah;
2) I am the subject of that command; and
3) Through the act that I am about to perform, I am fulfilling Hashem’s command.
It’s that simple, the Commander (Hashem), the commanded (me), the fulfilment (the mitvah). So, perhaps we can focus ourselves before we do a mitzvah and have these three things in mind.

Kavanna during Prayer
Shacharis davening consists of four basic components, while Mincha and Maariv and brachos contain some subset of those components which are:
1) Thanking Hashem for the physical goodness He gives to us (Berachos/Korbanos)
2) Praising Hashem for His general awesomeness (Pesukei D’Zimra)
3) Intellectually accepting and appreciating the Kingship and Oneness of Hashem (Shema)
4) Standing before Hashem with spiritual awareness that He is the source of everything
Obviously there’s a lot to talk about here and I highly recommend Aryeh Kaplan’s Jewish Mediation as a primary source for understanding kavanna and prayer.

Kavanna during Shacharis
Let’s go through a typical Shacharis and pick some potential Kavanna points.
1) When putting on Tallis and Tefillin, have in mind the three points of Kavanna during mitzvos described above
2) When saying morning Brachos, be thankful that Hashem has given you the opportunity to say these Brochos
3) During Korbonos, say at least Parshas HaTamid and Ketores with extra focus concentrating on the simple meaning of the words
4) During Pesukei D’Zimra in Ashrei say this line with focus: Poseach Es YoDecha… – You open your hand and satisfy every living thing’s desires”. A basic understanding is that although Hashem runs the world through orderly natural laws (as symbolized by the aleph-beis structure of Ashrei), He is constantly active in running the world.
5) During Shema, before the first verse have in mind that you are accepting Hashem’s Kingship and oneship with the implication of following a Torah way of life. According to some you should have in mind that you would actually give up your life for Hashem, if necessary.
6) Before Shmoneh Esrai have in mind that you are about to stand before Hashem and pray to him, that He is awesome, and that we are relatively small compared to Him, the source of everything.

These are just some ideas. Certainly we can do one a week, or one a day, or possibly more. Whatever works for you, but let’s make the effort and earn the merit to grow closer to Hashem at this time.

Originally published on September 2, 2009

Rav Itamar Shwartz (Bilvavi) on Pondering The Meaning Of Life

Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the Bilvavi and the Getting to Know Yourself (Soul, Emotions, Home) seforim has a free download available of Elul Talks here.

Hashem Helps Us When We Connect Our Actions With Him

ומגן ומושיע עוזר מלך Hashem is our עוזר ,our ultimate Helper.
Hashem is our true Helper. When a person helps another, the one receiving the help is considered the main person. But when Hashem helps us, we realize that Hashem is the main one, and we are just secondary. As it is written, “My help comes from Hashem.”.

Chazal say that our evil inclination gets stronger every day, and if not for Hashem, we cannot overcome it (Sukkah 52a). On a deeper note, our every action needs Hashem’s help. How indeed does Hashem help us?

Whenever we do an action, it is considered alive only if we put Hashem into the equation. Although we use our power of bechirah to do good actions, our actions can only be considered ‘alive’ when we realize how we need Hashem to help us, and this gives life to the actions we do. A person might do many good deeds, but inwardly, he can be dead, because there is no life-source to his actions; Hashem is missing from the equation. Once we put Hashem into what we do, Hashem isproviding life to our actions, and then the actions we do are alive.

Life Vs. Imagination

A person needs to live an inner kind of life, in which all that he does is inwardly connected to Hashem.

We must know what it means to really live life, and what it means to merely imagine what a good life is – to see the differentiation between these two. To illustrate, a child plays a game and is having a good time; he thinks that this is his life. As he begins to get older, he realizes that all his fun was the world of imagination, and that this is not life.

The life which we see in front of us, on this world, is all a world of imagination! In order to really know what our life is, we have to merit from Hashem that He open our hearts to understand what it really is. If our heart hasn’t been opened a little, we do not understand what “life” is at all. We might know what death is, but we won’t know what “life” is.

Our existence is that we are a soul clothed by a body. Therefore, we initially perceive life from the perspective of our body, even if we learn Torah and mitzvos; from the perspective of the body, we have an erroneous perception of what life is about. We have to daven to Hashem that He should open our heart (as we daven in the end of Shemoneh Esrei, “Open my heart to Your Torah”) in order to understand what life really is.

We should look back at out past and see that whatever we thought until now as “life” is not really life, just imagination. Most people are not experiencing the true meaning of life, even if they live for 70 or 80 years. People often do not even experience one moment of true life on this world!

Our neshamah in us knows what real life is. Even when we ask Hashem for life, we do not always know what it is. The meaning of life is really a secret; only our neshamah knows what it is. Sometimes we receive sparks of understanding of what the meaning of life is. But to actually arrive at a total recognition of what life is, we need to have our hearts opened.

During Elul, what are people asking Hashem for? People have all kinds of things they want and ask Hashem for a whole list of things. The more a person asks for various things, the more it shows that he doesn’t understand what life is. We are all asking Hashem for life! In Shemoneh Esrei of Rosh HaShanah, we daven Zochreinu L’Chaim, Melech Chofetz B’Chaim, Kosveinu B’Sefer HaChaim…we keep asking for life, because that is really our central request in Elul. As for our personal requests that we ask of Hashem, most of these requests are not for life itself, but rather about various details that branch out from our life, such as parnassah, etc. The main request which we ask for in Shemoneh Esrei is that we should have life!

Since we are young, we think that we know we are alive. But the truth is that most people don’t even realize what it means to really be alive! People ask Hashem that they be granted life only because they don’t want to die. But as for life itself, to know what it means to be alive – people often do not know what it is. We don’t want Hashem to take away our life, as we daven in the prayer of Shema Koleinu. But what is our life to begin with? What is the life that we are asking for more of? Do we realize the true meaning of what it means to be alive…?

If our hearts begin to become a little opened, we can realize that the kind of life we think we have been living until now is really the world of imagination. Compare this to a child. A child’s perspective on life is not life – it is imagination.

It is hard to verbally express this concept in words. The point is that your heart needs to become opened, and then you will know what is being discussed here.

In Elul, we ask for life. We must realize that this world we see in front of us is all imagination! Ever since Adam ate from the Eitz HaDaas, this world became like one big imaginary kind of existence. This is the depth behind the curse of “death” that came to the world – it was a “death” to the ideal state of mankind. So when we ask for life in Elul, the depth of our request is that we are asking Hashem that we be granted the power to leave our imagination, and instead taste of the true life – the Eitz HaChaim, the source of true life.

It is not only a person who is immersed in physical interests who is living in imagination. Even a person learning Torah and doing mitzvos, who is not entrenched in physical pursuit, can also be living in imagination. We see from this from the fact that we have all kinds of dreams at night.

When we reveal the inner essence of our heart, we will then understand what the true meaning of life is, and then we will be able to truly have d’veykus with the Creator.

Mourning on Tisha B’Av: Feeling the Void

Rabbi Reuven Leuchter
https://meihadaas.com/eng/home

Tisha B’Av is a day when we stop, sit on the floor and mourn. Yet year after year, we struggle to connect to mourning the churban, as the whole topic seems so far from our reality. We do not have any grasp on what it is like to have shechina in our midst; we do not feel that its absence has left the world bereft. In fact, we seem to be doing ‘just fine’ without a Beis Hamikdash.

The first point to understand is that the avodas Hashem of Tisha B’Av is different from all other days. We are accustomed to avoda performed through deeds and actions. Sitting idly all day gives us a feeling of time wasting and of disconnection from avodas Hashem. We instinctively seek to busy ourselves with activities in an attempt to connect us to the day.

However, the main avoda on Tisha B’Av is actually to refrain from doing actions. We enter a state of aveilus, whose purpose is to engender a sense of the real void that exists both in the world as whole and in our personal lives. We aim to feel an emptiness – not to immediately break the silence with talk of (for example) longing for the Moshiach. The focus should simply be to ‘feel the lacking’, to contemplate without trying to repair or replenish.

Yet how are we supposed to sense this lacking – if in reality we feel that our lives are full and complete?

The main reason that we do not sense this void is because we spend our lives thinking about ourselves. In order to feel the lacking, we need to escape from our superficial, personal perspective, in which we are focused on ourselves and on how we can advance personally. We need to change direction; to start thinking about the purpose of the world, the great plan that the Borei Olam has – and where we find ourselves within His plan.

If we introspect about this, we will realize that He has a desire for the world to be a place where His malchus and kedusha are revealed. That is what Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov focused on in their avoda; as did Moshe, Aharon and David Hamelech. This is now our task – to bring the world to its ultimate purpose of revealing kavod shamayim, something that is so much bigger than our personal, individual agendas.

If we delve into this idea fully and start to see ourselves as part of a big picture, we will begin to understand how great the void is. Our world is so far from this goal of gilui shechinah, so detached from the concept of kedusha. It is not even a topic of discussion. Whilst we may be busy fulfilling mitzvos and learning Torah, we do not identify with this greater goal. Moreover, when we see that the world at large is happy to permit acts and attitudes that are totally counter to kedusha, our feelings in response are tame, borne more out of personal sentiment than out of concrern for the Borei Olam’s master plan.

For example, if we come across chilul Shabbos (×—”ו), we are pained that our personal sensitives are not being respected. We are not so moved by the fact that such a thing could happen in a world that is supposed to be the setting for gilui shechinah. This shows the depths of the void, and indicates how our personal worldview does not actually include the Ribono shel Olam at all!

There is another reason why we do not see kedusha around us. Beyond the disconnection of society as a whole, personally we struggle to see how things in the physical world are transformed to a higher, spiritual plane – whether it is the clothing we wear on Shabbos, or the pen we use to write chidushei Torah. Our mitzvos and ma’asim tovim become detached from our practical surrounding. On the one hand we have Torah and mitzvos, on the other hand we have the world around us, yet we struggle to connect the two. That is also a real void.

Seen in this light, our tefila on Tisha B’Av should have a sense of distance. Rav Chaim of Volozhin wrote that we do not wear tefilin in the morning (of Tisha B’Av) because they are a ‘sign’ (an os) of connection between the Borei Olam and ourselves. We are trying to experience the greatest sense of richuk (distance) – any generating of closeness or connection is at odds with the essence of the day, whose focus is contemplating the terrible void.

The Nine Days: Awakening Yourself To Tears

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh
Download a number of Drashos on the Three Weeks and Tisha B’Ave

How Do You Feel Sad At Something You Never Saw?

Our avodah during the Nine Days involves certain actions we do, which eventually lead up to the day of Tisha B’Av – the very climax of our pain. There are outer actions we have to do according to halachah, but there is also an inner work to be done.

It is hard for us to imagine what it was like when we had a Beis HaMikdash. It is very far from our mind to comprehend, and it is hard as well even to imagine it. We are thus very far from feeling the pain of the destruction. How can we feel pain over something which we never saw, something which we can’t even really imagine?

The avodah we have during the Nine Days is about feeling the pain [over the loss of the Beis HaMikdash and what we used to have, before we were placed into exile]. Pain involves our deep emotions. Thus, we need to try to awaken ourselves to cry about what happened during these days. But it is very difficult for many people to do so. People read the stories and the history of what happened during those times, yet it is still very hard for people to actually feel pain and to cry over the tragic period of our history.

We need to find a way to open ourselves up, so that we can feel the depth of the pain of the destruction. We will try here, with the help of Hashem, to draw these matters closer to our hearts, so we can come to feel the pain that we are supposed to feel; to feel how the Shechinah is in exile.

The Superficial Way To Feel Pain

There are two ways how a person can try to draw himself close to mourning over the destruction. One of them is not that effective, while the other way is more effective.

One way (mentioned above) is for a person to awaken himself, in a superficial manner, to get inspired. This can be done by reading the statements of Chazal about the destruction. For most people, however, this doesn’t work, because it is hard to actually feel the pain of the destruction just by reading about the tragedies that went on. A person reads on and on about the many tragedies that Chazal say took place, yet he still doesn’t feel that it has to do with him, and it doesn’t get him to cry.

The Inner Way To Awaken Pain Over the Destruction

An alternative way, which is the way that will help us, is to awaken from within ourselves an internal kind of crying. Then we will be able to actually cry on our outside as well.

This is not accomplished through the usual inspiration that comes from outside of ourselves. We will explain.

All the maalos (qualities) which the soul can attain – such as yiras shomayim (fear of Heaven), kedushah (holiness), taharah (purity), etc. – are all desires of our soul to gain more and more levels in ruchniyus (spirituality). This is the universal desire of the Jewish people: to grow in our ruchniyus. But we must understand that inspiration alone will not suffice in order to accomplish this.

When the Beis Hamikdash was around, there was the Shechinah (Hashem’s revealed Presence), and this enabled people to reach very high levels in their ruchniyus. The great spiritual light that existed then affected all people, even the simplest Jew. The Vilna Gaon writes that we have no comprehension of even the simplest Jew of those times.

If anyone thinks about this – not just intellectually, but as an internalization – he would really see what we are missing today. The desires that we have to grow in ruchniyus, and the frustrations that we each have in trying to grow, would not have existed had we lived in the times of the Beis Hamikdash! It was so much easier to serve Hashem then! If we think about this and what this means for us, we would realize the true depth of the destruction.

All of our frustrations, and all of our various failures, are all a result of exile. Because we don’t have the Shechinah, it is so much harder for us to serve Hashem. We have yearnings to serve Hashem, we really want to grow in Torah and mitzvos, and in all areas of our ruchniyus – but we have so much frustration in trying to succeed. This is all because we don’t have the Shechinah.

If this doesn’t bother a person, that’s a different problem altogether. We are talking about someone who does realize it’s a problem. If a person realizes what he’s missing, he should go deeper into this reflection and what it means: If I would have the Beis Hamikdash in my life, I wouldn’t have so many problems in my ruchniyus.

If a person thinks about this, he will be able to awaken the pain that he is supposed to have over the destruction. There is a lot to think about here: how far we are in our ruchniyus. How far we are from Torah, from Tefillah, from Ahavas Yisrael, from shemiras einayim, from taharah…and from all other areas we need to be better at.

Anyone who thinks about this – calmly, and in solitude (as the Chazon Ish writes to do) – will discover how painful this realization is, and this will bring a person to cry.

In Summary

The avodah during these days is to first contemplate this on at least an intellectual level, and then internalize it in our hearts: how much we are missing.

If we would have a Beis Hamikdash, our hearts would be different, our daas would be different, our middos would be different. Contemplate this, and you will realize how painful this discovery is. And if you merit, it might even bring you to tears.

This is how we can awaken ourselves to cry. Of course, this is not yet reaching the purpose of why we mourn. We are only saying how we can open ourselves up to feel the pain we are supposed to feel.

Most People Need This Approach

The true Tisha B’Av one is supposed to have is to feel the general painful situation of the Jewish people, but this is only reached by someone who has great Ahavas Yisrael. Most people, though, have not reached such a high level of Ahavas Yisrael, and therefore they find it hard to cry over the situation of our people today.

That being the case, practically speaking, most people will need to simply awaken from within themselves a personal reason to cry, such as by thinking about one’s personal frustrations in areas of ruchniyus.

We can only cry over the loss of the Shechinah if we have already drawn ourselves close to the Shechinah, but most people aren’t close to the Shechinah; therefore, it is hard for most people to relate to the concept of the “pain of the Shechinah.” Therefore, most people need to simply open themselves up to cry: by thinking about their own private suffering, by thinking about how much we are missing from our own life.

The Higher Stage: Contemplating Another’s Pain

Let us continue one step further, but first make sure that you are on the first level: first realize where you are in your ruchniyus. If your heart has been opened at least to this first level, you can continue to the next level we are about to say.

Think about the following. Who do you love on this world? Everyone has people whom they love on this world; who do you love the most on this world? Think about this, and now, think: Do you feel the pain of the person whom you love the most? Do you feel his physical pain? If you do, what about the things that bother him spiritually? Do you feel any pain, whatsoever, at his\her situation? If you do, now connect yourself to his\her pain. Then, think about the following? The pain that your beloved person has is all a result of the loss of the Shechinah on this world! This is because all of the pain in the world comes from the absence of Shechinah.

What If Someone Doesn’t Care About Ruchniyus?

In the first stage we explained, we explained how a person should try to awaken his spiritual pain and frustration, so that he can awaken himself to the pain and mourning over the loss of the Shechinah. But what if someone’s spiritual situation doesn’t bother him that much? What can he do to awaken himself to tears over the loss of the Shechinah, if he doesn’t care that much about his own ruchniyus in the first place?

He can at least think into his physical situation, and let himself be bothered by the things in his life that are not alright. Every person has things in his life that bother him. After all, who doesn’t have hardship and difficulty on this world? Thinking about this can help a person open himself up to the idea of feeling pain, and now that he has brought the pain to the surface, he can remind himself that all of this pain is because we are in exile, because we don’t have the Shechinah.

A person has to sit and think about these reflections during Tisha B’Av, so that he can open himself up to the idea of pain and mourning over the exile and the loss of the Shechinah. Besides for hearing Eichah and reciting Kinnos on Tisha B’Av, a person must make sure to actually make these reflections and awaken himself to feel some level of pain.

This self-introspection must be done privately. Simply think about what pains you in your life. Anyone is on the level of doing this. Then, after you remind yourself of the pain you have in your life, realize that all of your pain is rooted in the fact that we do not have a Beis Hamikdash, that we are missing the Shechinah. This will help you open yourself up to the concept of pain, and it will be a small opening for you to help you feel the real pain you are supposed to feel.

May we all merit to feel the pain of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, and to be of those whom our Sages say, “Whoever mourns Jerusalem, will merit to see it in its rebuilding.”

Parshas Matos- Words are Stronger than Thoughts

אִישׁ֩ כִּֽי־יִדֹּ֨ר נֶ֜דֶר לַֽה” אֽוֹ־הִשָּׁ֤בַע שְׁבֻעָה֙ לֶאְסֹ֤ר אִסָּר֙ עַל־נַפְשׁ֔וֹ לֹ֥א יַחֵ֖ל דְּבָר֑וֹ כְּכָל־הַיֹּצֵ֥א מִפִּ֖יו יַֽעֲשֶֽׂה

A man who takes a vow or swears an oath to prohibit himself, shall not violate his word, whatever comes out of his mouth he shall do. Bamidbar 30:3

The Ralbag comments:

ככל היוצא מפיו יעשה. למדנו מזה שאע”פ שגמר בלבו צריך הוציא בשפתיו אבל דברים שבלב אינם דברים “

… all that comes out of his mouth” We learn from this that even if someone is sure in his heart, (in order for it to be a vow) he needs for it to come out of his lips, but words that are (only) in the heart are not words.

This Ralbag has halachic ramifications regarding vows– they must be spoken in order for them to have the koach of a vow. They also provide insight into the power of words. Words, not thoughts alone, have the power to take something permitted and make it prohibited. Words can literally change the world and actually make someone chayiv a Torah commandment because he uttered certain words. That is not the case if he simply thought those words. The Midrash (in Acharei Mos) relates a machlokes regarding the conduct of Nadav and Avihu:

שֶׁהָיוּ מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן מְהַלְּכִין תְּחִלָּה, נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּ מְהַלְּכִין אַחֲרֵיהֶם, וְכָל יִשְׂרָאֵל אַחֲרֵיהֶן. וְהָיוּ אוֹמְרִים: מָתַי יָמוּתוּ שְׁנֵי זְקֵנִים, וְאָנוּ נוֹהֲגִים בִּשְׂרָרָה עַל הַצִּבּוּר תַּחְתֵּיהֶם. רַבִּי יוּדָן בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי אִיבּוֹ אָמַר, שְׁנֵיהֶם אָמְרוּ בְּפִיהֶם זֶה לָזֶה, בִּפְנֵיהֶן אָמְרוּ זֶה לָזֶה. רַבִּי פִּנְחָס אוֹמֵר, בְּלִבָּם הִרְהֲרוּ

Moshe and Aaron walked first, while Nadav and Avihu walked after them and all of Yisrael after them. And they (Nadav and Avihu) were saying: “When will these two elders die, and we shall assume leadership after them.”

Rabi Yudan said in the name of Rabi Ibo: The two of them said it with their mouths to one another. Rabi Pinchas said they only thought this in their hearts. This Midrash is speaking about the arrogance of Nadav and Avihu. Why would it matter if Nadav and Avihu said this prideful statement out loud to each other as opposed to simply thinking it? The answer is that thinking something and saying something are two very different things. When we speak our thoughts, they become concretized, they become real, they become entrenched. By speaking this arrogant statement, Nadav and Avihu, on their extremely high levels, became that much more arrogant.

It is improper to think derogatorily about others, but it is a whole other thing to allow those thoughts to be spoken by our lips. We have the opportunity to stop improper speech if we pause before speaking what we are thinking.

Shmirah Ba’Shavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each Parsha.
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The Three Weeks – Building the World with Ahavas Chinam

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh
Download a number of Drashos on the Three Weeks and Tisha B’Ave

Binah/Binyan – The Power To ‘Build’ Through Our Understandings

בינה לאנוש ומלמד Hashem teaches “binah”, intuition, to us.

The word binah is related to the word binyan, to build. Torah scholars are called “builders” – they are blessed with the power of binah. When a person exerts himself in learning Torah, he is really building the world.
How can we reveal our power of binah to build the world – and to be more specific, to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash?

The Depth Behind ‘Sinas Chinam’ (Baseless Hatred): A Viewpoint of Disparity

Chazal tell us that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam (baseless hatred) 3
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What is the root of sinas chinam? From where does this negative emotion come from?

Simply, it comes from being egotistical. When a person only cares about himself, he couldn’t care less about others, so he will hate others for no reason.

But the deeper understanding is as follows.

When we build a structure, a brick is placed on top of another. Hashem created many details in Creation; we are all like many bricks that need to get added together, and form the complete structure of Creation. All details in Creation are many parts of one whole which will ultimately have to come together.

When we see the world – inanimate objects, as well as people – from a superficial perspective, we do not see how all these connect. But it is this superficial perspective which actually brought about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash!

We are supposed to see how all the details in Creation are really meant to come together and form a structure. Therefore, the many details going on in Creation are not just a bunch of random details. They are many parts of one whole, which need to come together in a structure. The purpose of everything is always one and the same – to come together, to become unified, and form one structure.

Applying this to our own development, when a person is young, he doesn’t connect outward beyond himself. When he gets a little older, he begins to realize that there is a Creator, and he wants to connect with the Creator, but he does not necessarily see connection with others as part of his connection with the Creator. If a person gets a little wiser, he realizes that his connection with theCreator really depends on how he connects with others.

When a person views Creation through a lens of disparity, this was the perspective which enabled destruction to come to the world. This is the depth behind sinas chinam.

Sinas Chinam – To Be Inwardly Apart From Other Jews

Even more so, sinas chinam means “I can live on my own; I don’t need other Jews in order to exist.”

What about the mitzvah to do chessed? The person rationalizes, “Chessed is like any other mitzvah that is outside of myself, like shaking a lulav. I don’t need chessed to exist.” When a person views Creation with disparity like this, that is sinas chinam – this perspective is what destroyed the Beis HaMikdash.

What was the Beis HaMikdash? It was the place that contained the Shechinah. But what is the Shechinah about? It is about Hashem’s Presence dwelling in Klal Yisrael, when we are in union. When we are not unified and we are instead apart from each other in our hearts, there is no point of having the Shechinah.

“The king is called the heart of the nation”; Hashem called is our “heart”. But if our hearts are full of disparity towards each other, and we each feel like we can survive without other Jews, then our damaged heart will not allow Hashem to be the heart of the nation, and thus the Shechinah will not dwell among us.

Sinas chinam has two layers to it. The outer layer of it is to show signs of hatred, simply speaking. The essence of sinas chinam, though, is that a person feels himself apart from other Jews, that he feels fine without other Jews, that he feels like he can live without other Jews. Sinas chinam, at its core, is to have a perspective of disparity towards creation, a lack of awareness that Creation is supposed to become unified.

Moving In The Opposite Direction of Sinas Chinam

How do we go in the opposite direction, then, and get ahavas chinam (‘baseless love’)? We know that we have a mitzvah to love other Jews like ourselves but, how do we actually get it?

Simply speaking, we need to get rid of sinas chinam and reveal our deep ahavah for other Jews that we have really deep down. True, but there is more to it.

Ahavas chinam is when we realize, “I cannot exist without another Jew’s existence, for we are all part and parcel with one another.” There is no individual Jew who can live without another Jew’s existence; when we internalize this understanding, we reveal ahavas chinam. Thus, hatred can only exist when a Jew thinks he can exist fine without another Jew.

This perspective of ahavas chinam is the power that can rebuild the Beis HaMikdash, as well as the world as a whole.

Learning Torah To Build The World

As an example, when a person learns Torah, does he realize he is building the world? Or is he learning it all for himself…?

Learning Torah is what unifies the details of the world together. When a person learns Torah, he must be aware that his learning causes unity in Creation, for Torah is the root of all souls. But if a person is learning Torah and he has no love for other Jews, he’s learning Torah all for himself, and such Torah does not build the world.

Uprooting Hatred, and Getting To The Root of Love

The Rambam describes our middos as “daas”. The essence of all our middos and emotions is daas. The depth of ahavas chinam, and removing sinas chinam, is thus not by working with our emotions. Our emotions of love or hatred can only be the result of what perspective we have deep down. If we reveal daas – and we come to actually sense it – then we can reveal love.

We know that doing things for other people can bring love, for “the heart is pulled after the actions”, but at the same time we must realize that we need daas. When we do actions for others, we need to reveal daas with it – to realize that we must unify with others.

To uproot sinas chinam, and to develop ahavas chinam, we need to do good actions for others and help others, but along with this, we also need to reveal our daas – to realize that we need to unify with others. It is a perspective which we need to gain on how we view others. This is the way to access the real emotion of love for other Jews.

Destruction comes when we are missing this perspective.

Love For Other Is Not A Novelty

What does it mean to love? It is not simply to shower love upon others. Love is when we reach our daas, when we connect with others, by realizing that all of Creation needs to become unified.

When a person gets married, he believes this is his bashert (soul-mate). He believes the words of Chazal that finding a wife is like finding his lost object. He does not view the love towards his wife as something new; he realizes that he is revealing a reality which is already there, for Chazal say that husband and wife were already destined to be bound together in love.

In the same way, we should view other Jews in Creation – our love for other Jews must not be some novel concept to us. When you meet another Jew, don’t think to yourself that Ahavas Yisrael is some new concept that you have to work on. Rather, it is the reality, and you need to align your way of thinking with that reality. This is because we are all one at our root.

The only reason why we don’t feel that unity is because we are currently living in a world of darkness, which blurs us from seeing the true reality. Therefore, we feel apart from each other, but it’s only because we are not in touch with reality.

What We Cry About on Tisha B’Av

We cry on Tisha B’Av over the ruins of Jerusalem, which lies in disgrace. We are living in a time of hester panim (concealment of Hashem’s revelation). But even more than so, we should cry about an even more painful situation: there are many of our fellow Jews today who are going through all sorts of pain, suffering, and predicament. In our times we live in, our fellow Jews today have both physical suffering as well as suffering of the soul.

We cannot really cry over the destruction of Jerusalem if we do not feel unity with other Jews. Why we do we cry on Tisha B’Av? Is it because we can’t bring our own Korbonos for ourselves? Or are we crying because we don’t have the Korbonos that atone for the entire congregation…? Which of these aspects means more to you…?

In Conclusion

“Whoever mourns Jerusalem, will merit to its rebuilding.” Even if we do not merit the actual rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, we can each have a part in its rebuilding, when we build the world through the deeper understanding that comes from our “daas”, towards our relationship with the other Jewish souls.

May we all merit to unify with other Jews, as one piece, and come together into one structure, in which “Hashem will be One, and His Name will be one”.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein on The Mistaken Rejection of Torah Leaders

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in Darash Moshe comments on the mistakes of those who reject Torah leaders:

Korach’s argument, the entire congregation — all of them — are holy, and why do you exalt yourself over the congregation of Hashem, is the basic argument of those who reject the Torah leaders and think that they know the Torah as well as the gedolim, and they do not need a teacher or a leader.

Without the tradition from one of the great men of the generation, one can easily err, just as Korach erred in the laws of tzitzis and mezuzah, and just like the apostasy of Eleazar ben Po’irah, who maintained that the sefer Torah is lying in a corner, and whoever wishes to learn may come and learn (Kiddushin 66a).

The fallacy of this assertion is not only regarding the Written Torah,as the Sadducees maintained, when they denied the authenticity of the Oral Torah. One who believes that the Talmud and all the sefarim in the world are lying “in a corner,” and that anyone can learn from them without the direction and guidance of Torah authorities, is an apostate.

As is manifest, all kinds of apostates find support for their erroneous views in some Rabbinic maxim. This is because they misunderstand the meaning of the Rabbis. Even the generation of the desert, upon whom the Shechinah rested, for they had heard the first two commandments of the Decalogue, still required Moses and Aaron and all the sages of the generation.

The Path of the BT

Mishpacha had an article about Baalei Teshuva a few weeks ago, titled “Oh, Brave New World” (https://mishpacha.com/oh-brave-new-world/). It did a good job of discussing some of the issues BTs face. We’ve been discussing the issues described in the article here, on BeyondBT.com, since 2005, and I was happy to see that no new problems have surfaced. Here are two thoughts I would like to share.

Many discussions about BTs focus on our difficulties and deficiencies. Yes, BTs face issues that FFBs don’t, perhaps most importantly, the deficiency in Torah education. However, those difficulties and deficiencies often put a BT on a path of permanent growth-seeking, which is perhaps the primary attitude that a Jew needs to have. Of course not all BTs stay on the lifelong growth track, but a high percentage does, because the need for continual growth is apparent to BTs.

The second issue is the overemphasized focus on culture and lifestyle. These are important issues, and advice on how to navigate the realities of the Torah observant community is always welcome. However, Torah is not primarily about culture and lifestyle. It’s about using our thoughts, emotions and actions to develop a deep connection to Hashem and to our fellow Jews. The brilliance of the Torah is that it gives us the means to develop these connections in almost all situations. A focus on culture and lifestyle often distracts us from aligning our lives with our purpose.

Perhaps if we all proceed together on the path of growth and connection, we can truly reach the Brave New World.

The Test of Shavuos

Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the Bilvavi and the Getting to Know Yourself (Soul, Emotions, Home) seforim has a free download available of Shavous Talks here.

The Test That Returns Each Year

Shavuos is the time of the giving of the Torah. Consequently, it is now the time to prepare to receive the Torah. In order to ‘receive’ the Torah each year we can gain inspiration from reflecting on what the Jewish people did to prepare themselves to receive the Torah.

When Hashem came down to Har Sinai, He revealed Himself to the Jewish people. The entire nation trembled at the awesomeness of His revelation. Moshe Rabbeinu had to reassure the people that they had nothing to fear, and that Hashem was merely giving them a test.

A difficult test is called a nisayon. The days of Sefiras HaOmer occur during three months of the Jewish calendar – the second half of the month of Nissan, the entire month of Iyar, and the beginning of the month of Sivan. The word Nissan is rooted in the word nisayon. In other words, this first month of the sefiras ha’omer, the month of Nissan, contains in it a nisayon – a test. The “test” is how we will prepare for the Torah.

The word Iyar (the month which follows Nissan) comes from the word “yirah”, awe. This alludes to how the month of Iyar contains the power of yirah which can help enable us to prepare for receiving the Torah.

Thus, the months of Nissan and Iyar both serve to help us prepare for Shavuos. The “nisayon” (test)of Nissan requires us to prepare for the Torah, and the month of Iyar aids us in having the proper yirah, which are both necessary in order to receive the Torah.

The word nisayon comes from the word nes, which means to “run”; if a person “runs” away from the nisayon, he fails to grow from it. Alternatively, the word nes also means “miracle,” which uplifts a person. The hint of this is that a nisayon can either cause a person to run away from it, or become uplifted from it.Thus, every nisayon we endure serves as a test of our power of free choice – we can choose to elevate ourselves through the nisayon we are presented with, or run away from the message and fail to grow.

When the people heard the voice of Hashem at Har Sinai and all the thunder and lightning that followed, they had a nisayon. They were faced with a choice – they could want to run away, orthey could choose to become uplifted. Their first reaction was to want to flee; only then did Moshe Rabbeinu calm them down and reassure them not to flee in fear. He was really teaching the people that the purpose of this nisayon was to uplift them.

The Test At Har Sinai and Each Year

What exactly is the nisayon which the Jewish people faced in receiving the Torah? What did they find so difficult?

The Mesillas Yesharim writes that everything in this world is in a nisayon. No matter who you are and what your situation is, one is always facing a nisayon.

The first nisayon at Har Sinai was whether we the Jewish people would really accept the Torah when it was offered by Hashem to them as an option. The second nisayon occurred at the actual time of the giving of the Torah and was a much deeper but more subtle kind of test. At this point the Jewish people had already reached the apex of perfection, standing at Har Sinai and seeing the revelation of Hashem. Their test was whether they were willing and courageous enough choose to hear the Torah directly from the voice of Hashem.

Did they pass the test?

The Torah tells us that they did not pass the test. When the people heard the voice of Hashem at Har Sinai, they were afraid that they would die from hearing Hashem’s voice. In their fear, they requested to hear the Torah from Moshe’s voice instead. The Vilna Gaon teaches that this deviation from listening to Hashem was the seed that ultimately led to the sin of the Golden Calf. The Jewish people were supposed to be on the level of being willing to die in order to hear the voice of Hashem. From this we learn that we actually need to serve Hashem on the level of being prepared to die just to listen to Hashem’s voice!

But surely we would be forgiven for wanting to live and give up the opportunity to hear Hashem’s voice, rather than hear Hashem’s voice and die? What is the problem with choosing to live rather than hear Hashem’s voice? The answer is that to live without hearing the voice of Hashem’s is not really a life!

Admittedly, the people’s fear of Hashem’s voice did not signify idol worship. However, the sin lay in the fact that their fear of dying (which they associated with hearing His voice directly) surpassed their love of Hashem. The people’s fear of dying led them to settle for hearing the Torah through Moshe instead of directly from Hashem’s voice. However, the people failed to realize that life without hearing Hashem’s voice is meaningless.

When Adam sinned, he was ashamed in front of Hashem. He said, “Your voice I hear amidst the garden, but I am afraid and hiding.” [1] He ran away from hearing Hashem’s voice. At Har Sinai, we reached the purified state of Adam before the sin and were tested once again to see if we would listen to Hashem’s voice or run in fear. However, we failed to pass the test.

All of us were at Har Sinai, for our souls were there in a previous lifetime. Thus, we all failed to pass that test – we were afraid to die. However, we have a chance every year to pass this test again every year at Shavuos time. Are we ready to die to hear the voice of Hashem?

Before we accept the light of receiving the Torah which returns every year on Shavuos, we are first tested again to see whether we have reached the level of choosing to listen to Hashem’s voice and risk dying. At Har Sinai, the test was overt. In contrast, the test of our current day is not as clear to us, though it is the same test. And though we are not on the same level as we were at Har Sinai, Hashem still sends us the same test to each and every one us each year [to see if we will pass].

Striving For A Relationship With Hashem In Our Daily Life

In practical terms, what is our “test” that returns to us each Shavuos? In order to understand the essence of this difficult test presented to us each year on Shavuos, we must first understand that there are two totally different ways to live life.

When faced with a difficulty, one kind of person will continue to learn Torah and do all the mitzvos, visit tzaddikim and give tzedakah. He may also daven by kevarim (and even talk to Hashem a little when he is there). In contrast, the second type of person who meets with challenges will talk to Hashem about them all the time, and share with Him all his problems.

The first type of person is missing the point of life. Of course, there is something special in visiting tzaddikim. There is certainly a concept of segulos, but relying on spiritual charms is not enough!! We need to have a constant relationship with Hashem, including regular interaction and talking to Him, so that when we face a challenge we will naturally talk to Hashem directly, without wanting or thinking we need someone else to do it for us!

When we daven to Hashem in Shemoneh Esrei, we must realize we are speaking directly with Hashem. We can choose to ‘hear His voice’ and have direct contact with Him. And this is not just limited to our Shemonei Esrei. Our entire life can and should involve Hashem in this way. We should strive to always feel that Hashem is in front of us. As we learn from the Mesillas Yesharim, we should talk to Hashem “as a man who talks to his friend.”

For instance, imagine that you need something urgently. There is something very specific that you personally can do about it. Talk to Hashem! Davening to Hashem is not a “segulah.” Rather, it should be natural to you. This mindset and practice affects our entire life. Tefillah is the art of a Jew, which we received from our ancestors. We can ask and thank Hashem before everything we do.

However, since many of us are unfamiliar with this regular practice, we do not feel that closeness to Hashem. Therefore, it is only natural that we would be less likely to be prepared to die for Hashem. There is no relationship, so we would be less inclined to sacrifice anything for Him. There has to first be a relationship with Hashem. Only once we have fostered and ignited a close and loving relationship can we ever hope to reach the level of being prepared to give himself up for Him.

Every year, Hashem approaches us on Shavuos and offers to speak to us again so we can hear His voice. The question is – are we prepared to listen to Him? The truth to this question lies deep in your heart. We must try to reach a level whereby we truly should be willing to and want to hear the voice of Hashem.

Of course, if you ask anyone if he wants to hear Hashem’s voice, he will respond, “Of course! What spiritual bliss that would be!” But as soon as he told that he will have to give his life for it and die for it, he turns back and runs away. At Har Sinai the people did not want to hear Hashem’s voice. Instead they chose to hear the Torah from Moshe. It is harsh to say something like this, but the same thing is likely to happen at the time of the Moshiach if one did not develop a strong enough relationship with Hashem. At the time of the Moshiach, we are taught that we will learn Torah. But from whom will we hear this Torah from? We will have a choice to hear it either from Hashem directly, or from Moshiach.

If someone never spent his life talking with Hashem, then when Moshiach comes, he will not be able to suddenly run to go hear Hashem’s voice teaching the Torah. He will reject hearing the Torah directly from Hashem Himself, in favor of hearing it from Moshiach!

The Sages teach that one must exert himself over the Torah, and must “kill himself in the tents of Torah.”[2] Why it is indeed necessary for us to ‘die’ for the Torah? On a simple level, this is a euphemism for sacrificing all materialism for the sake of ruchniyus, and a greater connection with the Torah. However, on a deeper level, we learn that just as the Jewish people were supposed to die in order to hear Hashem’s voice, so must we be prepared to die in order to hear Hashem’s speaking to us through the Torah.

And so, the question we must ask ourselves each Shavuos is: Are we prepared to die for the Torah?

Imagine if Hashem came to us again and asked us if we wanted the Torah. Imagine if we heard His voice and felt our souls leaving us, just as the souls of the Jewish people left them with each word of the Torah they heard from Hashem. What would we do? Would we be willing to continue listening and sacrifice our soul? Or would we say, “I don’t know about this. I have to ask my wife. Also, I have kids at home. If I die, they will be left without a father.” All kinds of excuses….

Preparation for receiving the Torah is really all about being prepared to sacrifice one’s life for the sake of Torah and to hear Hashem’s voice. And, this must be a true willingness in one’s heart, and it will not suffice as a mere utterance of the lips that is superficial.

Preparing For Shavuos: Making A Self-Accounting

Practically speaking, in the three days leading up to Shavuos, everyone should actively carve out some time of quiet to make a self-accounting and ask himself if he is ready to accept the Torah or not. Is he willing to stay and listen to Hashem’s voice at the risk of death? This is the question that each Jew should ask himself every Shavuos: “If I would be standing at Har Sinai right now, would I be on the level to receive the Torah directly from Hashem’s voice?”

People may assume that such willingness to sacrifice our lives for Hashem was only relevant and appropriate for previous generations, and that we surely cannot be on the level of standing at Har Sinai. They may react, “What do you want from us?? These words are not for this generation…”

But such an attitude reveals a rejection of receiving the Torah. Whether or not we are there yet, we must at least strive to have a yearning to reach that high level, and we must not remain complacent with a low spiritual level.

This willingness to die for Hashem and His Torah should not be limited just to Shavuos. It should carry over into the rest of the year as well – to life a life of connection with Hashem, all day, and not just when we daven three times a day. Every day, each person should actively consider deeply about his relationship with Hashem, and how much he is willing to sacrifice to get closer to Him.

The Torah says, “Remember the day in which you stood before Hashem, your G-d, at Horeb.” Don’t just remember that you stood at Har Sinai – remember that you stood in front ofHashem at Har Sinai.

These words here will ring true for anyone who searches for a true kind of life. It is the true way to prepare for receiving the Torah. I hope that the words here are not new to you; to the contrary, I hope that they are quite familiar to you. We must separate ourselves from the mores of our generation to become souls of the Creator of the World.

May Hashem merit all of us to accept the Torah before Shavuos, and to be ready to give ourselves up in order to hear Hashem’s voice and His Torah, all year.

[1] Bereishis 3:10

[2] Brochos 63b

The Ramchal’s Prescription for Making Better Brochos

The 26th of Iyar is the Ramchal’s Yahrzeit. It’s a great opportunity to use the lessons of Mesillas Yesharim to make better brochos.

If we want to make better Brochos we can:
– internalize that our purpose in life is to get closer to Hashem
– stop before we say the brocha and realize that we have an opportunity to get closer to Hashem
– think and focus on the fact that Hashem is the Master of All when saying His Name
– act and appreciate this realized opportunity of getting closer to Hashem

These ideas are included in the first three foundations of the Mesillas Yesharim which are:
– Chovas HaAdam (Man’s Duty in the World) – Pursuing the greatest pleasure of connecting to Hashem through proper mitzvos performance
– Zehirus (Watchfulness) – Avoiding a distracted life by focusing on our purpose of connecting to Hashem and watching that our actions are in line with our purpose
– Zerizus (Zealousness) – Overcoming our natural laziness and making enthusiastic performance of mitzvos our top priority

Chovas HaAdam – Internalize Your Purpose
Proper Divine Service begins with internalizing our purpose in the world. Why are we here? It starts with why. In the secular world, this concept relates to our discovering our individual purpose. In the Mesillas Yesharim, the Ramchal is focused on the common purpose we all share, which is to develop a deep connection to Hashem in this world, through the performance of mitzvos. That is our why, our purpose, and the more we internalize it, the more we’ll be driven by it.
– At least once a day, say to yourself “My purpose in this world us to develop a deep connection to Hashem through the performance of Mitzvos”

Zehirus – Stop, Think, Act, Review
Zehirus is internalizing the habit of thinking before you act. We are often distracted and don’t think about our actions. The first step is to stop before you act. The purpose of stopping is to think about what you are about to determine if it is in line with your purpose in life. If what you are about to do is an aveira, then try not to do it. If what you’re about to do is a mitzvah, then do it, with the thought that this act will help me achieve my purpose. The next step is doing the act with the proper thoughts. The last step is to review and think about the actions at least once a day. This helps to internalize the habit of zehirus.
– At least once a day, think about whether your actions were in line with your purpose.

Zerizus – Do it with Enthusiasm
Zerizus is internalizing the habit of doing mitzvos enthusiastically. The nemesis of enthusiasm is lethargy and laziness, which is a result of our physical nature. The first step is stopping and thinking before we act, which are the components of zehirus. Now we can think about the fact that the mitzvah we are about to do is in line with our purpose of connecting to Hashem. What could be better? Now we can proceed to do the mitzvah with increased enthusiasm, as it is integral to fulfilling our purpose.
– At least once a day, think about the importance of the brocha you are about to say, and then say it with some enthusiasm.

Here is a podcast that David and Mark did discussing these principals.

Do Not Profane My Holy Name.

וְלֹ֤א תְחַלְּלוּ֙ אֶת־שֵׁ֣ם קָדְשִׁ֔י
Do not profane My Holy Name.

This is the sixth lav relating to lashon hora set forth in the pesicha to the Sefer Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim, in the Be’er Mayim Chaim to this lav, provides two reasons why there is a particularly intertwined relationship between speaking lashon hora and transgressing the prohibition of “Do not profane My Holy Name”.

The first reason is that lashon hora, in and of itself, does not provide a tangible benefit to the speaker or listener. The gemara in Taanis (8a) says לְעָתִיד לָבוֹא מִתְקַבְּצוֹת וּבָאוֹת כׇּל הַחַיּוֹת אֵצֶל הַנָּחָשׁ, וְאוֹמְרִים לוֹ: אֲרִי דּוֹרֵס וְאוֹכֵל, זְאֵב טוֹרֵף וְאוֹכֵל, אַתָּה מָה הֲנָאָה יֵשׁ לְךָ? אֹמֵר לָהֶם: ״וְאֵין יִתְרוֹן לְבַעַל הַלָּשׁוֹן״. In the days to come, all of the animals will gather together and come to the snake and say to him: A lion mauls its prey and eats it; a wolf tears apart its prey and eats it; but you, what pleasure do you have when you bite (a large animal or person that you are incapable of eating)? The snake will say to them: And what advantage does the speaker of lashon hora gain? A snake commonly kills prey and then slithers away without eating it. The ba’al lashon hora is the same, he kills with his words but does not gain a physical advantage. When someone receives a physical pleasure or advantage from an aveirah, it is, of course, still an aveirah, but we are not perfect beings and in weak moments we can be tempted to do something that might provide an immediate pleasure or physical benefit. When it comes to lashon hora, however, since there is generally no physical pleasure or benefit, it is considered to be a blatant desecration of Hashem and his mitzvos.

The second reason is that, due to the fact that lashon hora has become so commonplace, people often trivialize the halachah and become unable to see their speech as even possibly violating the Torah. If you are to reprimand such a person, the Chofetz Chaim says, he will bring “one thousand reasons” as to why what he said was either permitted or actually obligated. Commonly, he will double down and say even more egregious lashon hora. The Chofetz Chaim asks: הנמצא ×›×–×” בכל עונות שבעולם, למשל אם נראה שאחד נכשל באכילת חזיר בשוגג ונוכיח אם נראה שאחד נכשל באכילת חזיר בשוגג ונוכיח אותו על מהאותו על מה שעבר שעבר על תורת ×”’ ולא השגיח על עצמו שלא לבוא לזה היתכן שיקח עוד חתיכת חזיר בפני המוכיח אותו ויאכל בפניו Can you find any other sin that is like this? For example, if you saw someone inadvertently eating pig and you rebuked them because they are transgressing the Torah, would he take another piece of pig and eat it in the face of the one who is rebuking him?! When it comes to desecration of Hashem’s name through lashon hora, it is a particular affront since it commonly leads to perversion of the Torah and additional bold faced commission of the same aveirah.

The Takeaway:
Those who speak lashon hora, and particularly ba’alei lashon hora– those who habitually speak lashon hora, commit a chilul Hashem because they generally have no physical pleasure from their speech and, therefore, it appears as if they are simply and knowingly acting against Hashem and his mitzvos. Additionally, the baa’al lashon hora will find any excuse to justify his speech and even claim that it is required. This type of immunity to rebuke and twisting of halachah is an egregious affront to Hashem.

This Week:
Think about how you will act if someone tells you that something you have said is or might be lashon hora. Develop a response phrase that will ensure that you won’t fall into the trap of immediately trying to justify your speech. Some examples: “You might be right, l’m sorry, let me think that over.” “I try to be careful about my speech, so thank you for pointing that out.” “I appreciate you mentioning that, I need to think more on this particular situation.”

This twisting of Hashem’s mitzvos and rationalizing in a way that makes it seem that you don’t believe that Hashem is all knowing and seeing is an extreme level of chilul Hashem.

Shmirah Ba’Shavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each Parsha.
For sefer sponsorships or to sponsor the Parsha Sheet, please contact David Linn connectwithwords365@gmail.com.

Pirkei Avos Week 2

This week is the second Perek for Pirkei Avos. Here is the link for an English Translation of all six Perakim culled from Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld’s translation and commentary at Torah.org. The full text of Pirkei Avos in Hebrew can be found here.

Torah.org also has some of the Maharal’s commentary for Pirkei Avos and you can purchase the Art Scroll adaptation of the Maharal’s commentary here.

Here is Chapter 2 of Pirkei Avos

1. “Rabbi said, What is the proper path that one should choose for himself? Whatever is glorious / praiseworthy for himself, and honors him before others. Be careful with a minor mitzvah (commandment) like a severe one, for you do not know the reward for the mitzvos. Consider the loss incurred for performing a mitzvah compared to its reward, and the pleasure received for sinning compared to the punishment. Consider three things and you will not come to sin. Know what is above you – an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and all your deeds are written in a book.”

2. “Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehuda the Prince said, Torah study is good with a worldly occupation, because the exertion put into both of them makes one forget sin. All Torah without work will in the end result in waste and will cause sinfulness. All who work for the community should work for the sake of Heaven, for the merit of the community’s forefathers will help them, and their righteousness endures forever. And as for you, God will reward you greatly as if you accomplished it on your own.”

3. “Be careful with authorities, for they do not befriend a person except for their own sake. They appear as friends when they benefit from it, but they do not stand by a person in his time of need.”

4. “He used to say, make His will your will, so that He will make your will His will. Annul your will before His will, so that He will annul the will of others before your will.”

5. “Hillel said, do not separate from the community, do not trust yourself until the day you die, do not judge your friend until you reach his place, do not make a statement which cannot be understood which will (only) later be understood, and do not say when I have free time I will learn, lest you do not have free time.”

6. “He (Hillel) used to say, a boor cannot fear sin, nor can an unlearned person be pious. A bashful person cannot learn, nor can an impatient one teach. Those who are involved excessively in business will not become a scholar. In a place where there are no men, endeavor to be a man.”

7. “He (Hillel) also saw a skull floating on the water. He said to it: ‘Because you drowned you were drowned, and in the end those who drowned you will be drowned.'”

8. “He (Hillel) used to say, the more flesh the more worms, the more property the more worry, the more wives the more witchcraft, the more maidservants the more lewdness, the more slaves the more thievery. The more Torah the more life, the more study the more wisdom, the more advice the more understanding, the more charity the more peace. One who acquires a good name acquires it for himself; one who acquires words of Torah acquires a share in the World to Come.”

9. “Rabban Yochanan ben (the son of) Zakkai received [the transmission] from Hillel and Shammai. He used to say, if you have studied much Torah do not take credit for yourself because you were created for this.”

10. “Rabban Yochanan ben (the son of) Zakkai had five [primary] students. They were: Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, Rabbi Yossi the Priest, Rabbi Shimon ben Nesanel, and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach.”

11. “He (Rabban Yochanan ben (son of) Zakkai) used to list their praises (the praises of his five primary students). Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos is a cemented pit which never loses a drop; Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya fortunate is she who bore him; Rabbi Yossi the Priest is pious; Rabbi Shimon ben Nesanel fears sin; and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach is as an increasing river.”

12. “He used to say, if all the sages of Israel would be on one side of a scale and Eliezer ben Hurkenos on the second side, he would outweigh them all. Abba Shaul said in his name, if all the Sages of Israel would be on one side of a scale with even Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos among them, and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach on the second side, he would outweigh them all.”

13. “He (Rabban Yochanan) said to them (his students) go out and see which is a good way to which someone should cleave. Rabbi Eliezer said a good eye; Rabbi Yehoshua said a good friend; Rabbi Yossi said a good neighbor; Rabbi Shimon said one who considers consequences. Rabbi Elazar said a good heart. He said to them, I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach over your words, for included in his words are your words.”

14. “He (Rabban Yochanan) said to them (his students) go out and see which is a bad way which a person should avoid. Rabbi Eliezer said a bad eye. Rabbi Yehoshua said a bad friend. Rabbi Yossi said a bad neighbor. Rabbi Shimon said one who borrows and does not pay back. One who borrows from a person is as one who borrows from G-d, as it says, “A wicked person borrows and does not repay, but the Righteous One is gracious and gives” (Psalms 37:21). Rabbi Elazar said a bad heart. He said to them, I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach over your words, for included in his words are your words.”

15. “They (the five students of Rabban Yochanan – see above Mishna 10) each said three things. Rabbi Eliezer said: The honor of your fellow should be as dear to you as your own. Do not get angry easily. Repent one day before you die. Warm yourself before the fire of the Sages. But be wary with their coals that you do not get burnt, for their bite is the bite of a fox, their sting is the sting of a scorpion, their hiss is the hiss of a serpent, and all their words are like fiery coals.”

16. “Rabbi Yehoshua said, an evil eye, the evil inclination, and hatred of another person remove a person from this world.”

17. “Rabbi Yossi said, let your fellow’s property be as dear to you as your own, prepare yourself to study Torah because it is not an inheritance to you, and all of your deeds should be for the sake of heaven.”

18. “Rabbi Shimon said, be careful in reading the Shema and the prayers. When you pray, do not regard your prayers as a fixed obligation, rather they should be [the asking for] mercy and supplication before G-d, as the verse says, “For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, great in kindness, and relenting of the evil decree” (Joel 2:13). Do not consider yourself a wicked person.”

19. “Rabbi Elazar said, be diligent in the study of Torah. Know what to answer a heretic. Know before Whom you toil. And faithful is your Employer that He will pay you the reward for your labor.”

20. “Rabbi Tarfon said, the day is short, the work is great, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master of the house presses.”

21. “He (Rabbi Tarfon) used to say, it is not upon you to complete the task, but you are not free to idle from it. If you have learned much Torah, you will be given much reward, and faithful is your Employer that He will reward you for your labor. And know that the reward of the righteous will be given in the World to Come.”

Expressing Gratitude for Spiritual Opportunities

I’m very fortunate to still be in touch with over 100 people from my childhood. Before every Yom Tov I try to share a D’var Torah with them. Here’s this year’s edition:

Whether you’ve read the Torah, the Haggadah or saw Cecil B. DeMille’s rendition, Passover looks like a standard freedom story – an oppressed people finally gained their freedom. But we can’t miss the fact that in this freedom story, the Creator of the Universe is one of the protagonists.

Our Sages question the need for G-d’s involvement. Surely He could have empowered the Jews behind the scenes to escape and survive, as has happened many times in history. Another difficulty is the fact that the Torah makes it quite clear that G-d wanted us to be enslaved in the first place.

The answer to these questions is that the Exodus is not about where we were coming from, it’s about where we are going to. Through G-d’s overt involvement and the subsequent receiving of the Torah, we became a unique nation with the unique potential to live a life of constant spiritual awareness by following the mitzvos of the Torah.

The Torah teaches us how to reduce our anger, our envy, our anxiety, our gossip, our self-centeredness and how to channel and elevate our physical desires. We’re also taught how to love our neighbors as ourselves and how to become givers who are looking to help others in the physical, monetary and emotional realms. These are some of the components of a lifelong spiritual growth process. It’s not easy, but pursuing any spiritual growth is a life game-changer.

Passover is the time to energize our growth and the primary vehicle is gratitude. By recounting our development from Abraham, through the Exodus, the Splitting of Sea, and the receiving of the Torah, we express our gratitude for the spiritual foundations that G-d has provided for us. The entire seder is filled with spiritual opportunities like eating Matzah, Maror, the Meal – and we thank G-d for each and every one of them.

Passover begins after nightfall (8:15 PM) on Wednesday. It’s a great time to avail ourselves of the spiritual opportunities by rounding up some matzah, wine, bitter herbs and a Haggadah. Here are some resources to help:
https://beyondbt.com/docs/OneMinuteGuideToPassover.pdf
https://beyondbt.com/docs/FiveMinuteSeder.pdf
https://beyondbt.com/docs/TenMinuteSeder.pdf
https://beyondbt.com/docs/ThirtyMinuteGuideToTheSeder.pdf
https://beyondbt.com/docs/HaggadahTranslation.pdf

We should all be blessed that our small spiritual steps result in a Sweet and Happy Passover.

Note: Take a look at this article https://jewishunpacked.com/got-10-minutes-this-is-the-quickest-kosher-seder/ about Rabbi Jonah Bookstein and the origins of his Ten Minute Seder, listed above.

Developing Emunah of Our Mind, Heart and Actions

Driving Intellectual Knowledge into Our Hearts
One of the hardest aspects of Judaism is to turn our intellectual knowledge into heartfelt knowledge and then to have our actions reflect that knowledge. Rav Yisroel Salant addressed this issue with heart-focused Mussar learning, while the Baal Shem Tov addressed it with Chassidus (and today Neo-Chassidus). The contemporary teachings of Rav Itamar Schwartz focus on transferring intellectual knowledge of Hashem from our heads, into our hearts, and into our actions.

Emunah of the Mind
Belief in Hashem and His Torah must begin with the knowledge that Hashem created the world, took us out from Mitzrayim, and gave us the Torah. The mitzvah of “Telling of the Exodus Story” along with our twice daily mitzvah to “Remember that Hashem took Us Out of Egypt” forms the foundation of our intellectual knowledge.

Emunah of the Heart
However, the telling of the story on Pesach requires a deeper, more ingrained, heartfelt knowledge. In fact, there is a mitzvah to “See ourselves as if we actually left Mitzrayim”. The commentators discuss that this is a difficult mitzvah because we know that we personally did not leave Mitzrayim. We need to use the visualizations that the Torah provides by discussing Pesach, Matzah and Maror during Maggid to assist us in this task. In addition, we can consider that we left Mitzrayim, by viewing the Exodus as an ongoing process which will be completed with the future redemption from our current exile. Lastly, Pesach is a night of Hodaah, a night of Hallel, Dayenu, and endless praise and thanks to Hashem. Gratitude is one of the most powerful tools to develop a connection and love of Hashem for all He does and all He has done for us.

Emunah of the mind is accessible, but Emunah of the heart doesn’t need recall – it’s always there. Emunah of the heart is developed by thinking often about Hashem during time bound mitzvos like the Shema, constant mitzvos like the Six Constant Mitzvos, and opportunal mitzvos like Chesed Opportunities. The goal is to always feel Hashem’s presence. It’s a lifelong process, but the Pesach Seder is the number one yearly opportunity to develop Emunah of the heart.

Emunah in Our Actions
The third component is Emunah in our Actions. Not only do we need to know and feel Hashem’s presence, but we need to act on those thoughts and feelings. Emunah in our actions focuses on acting faithfully to Hashem in all we do and by performing His Mitzvos properly, with thought and feeling. According to the Vilna Gaon, the Pesach Seder provides 64 mitzvos in which we can act faithfully to Hashem. It is a great opportunity to perform our mitzvos at our highest level of capability.

We can all improve our service of Hashem. Pesach is the opportunity to supercharge our spiritual growth with Emunah of the Mind, Emunah of the Heart, and Emunah of our Actions.

64 Mitzvos According to the Gra from R’ Silverstein in the name of R’ Elchanan Wasserman:
1-Kiddush;
2-Kiddush on Wine;
3-Borei Pri HaGafen;
4-Kiddush HaYom;
5-Mentioning Yitzias Mitzrayim in Kiddush;
6-Bracha of Shechayanu;
7-Drinking First Cup;
8-Leaning for the First Cup;
9-Washing hands for Karpas;
10-Bracha of Netilas Yadayim (we don’t pasken like this);
11-Borei Pri Hoadama;
12-Eating Karpas;
13-Dipping it in Salt Water;
14-Bracha achrona (we don’t pasken like this);
15-Shankbone for Korban Pesach;
16-Egg for Korban Chagigah;
17-Yachatz to show Backbreaking Work;
18-Mah Nishtana;
19-Saying over the Story;
20-Starting with the Bad and Ending with praise;
21-Saying the Haggadah Over Matzah;
22-R’ Gamliel’s 3 things;
23-Seeing Ourselves as Leaving Egypt;
24-Thanking Hashem for Taking us Out;
25-Bracha of Asher Gealanu;
26-Bracha on Second Cup;
27-Drinking Second Cup;
28-Leaning for Second Cup;
29-Washing Hands for Matzah;
30-Bracha for Washing Hands;
31-Bracha of HaMotzie;
32-Bracha of Achilas Matzah;
33-Lechem Mishna;
34-Eating First Kezayis of Matzah;
35-Eating Second Kezayis of Matzah;
36-Leaning while Eating Matzah;
37-Eating the Meal;
38-Bracha on Maror;
39-Eating Maror;
40-Charoses for Zecher Mitzrayim
41-Dipping Maror in Charoses;
42-Korech;
43-Leaning for Korech;
44-Eating First Kezayis of Afikoman;
45-Eating Second Kezayis of Afikoman;
46-Leaning for Afikoman;
47-Mayim Achronim;
48-Kos for Bentching;
49-Mezuman for Bentching;
50-First Bracha of Birchas Hamazon;
51-Second Bracha of Birchas Hamazon;
52-Third Bracha of Birchas Hamazon;
53-Fourth Bracha Birchas Hamazon;
54-Bracha on Third Cup;
55-Drinking Third Cup;
56-Leaning for Third Cup;
57-Hallel;
58-Zimun by Hallel;
59-Bracha after Hallel;
60-Bracha on Fourth Cup;
61-Drinking Fourth Cup;
62-Leaning for Fourth Cup;
63-Al HaGefen after Fourth Cup;
64-Simcha on the Seder night;

Pesach – From Child to Adult

Rav Itamar Schwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of amazing Drashos on the month of Nisan and Pesach

When it comes the Seder on Pesach night, there are some people who were used to a noisier seder when they were younger, and when they get older and are now at the age of 20, 25, 30 and beyond, they lose that spark they had as children; they find that they have lost their feelings for the seder.

A child can sleep for 2 hours before the seder, so he can come into Pesach refreshed and awake, whereas a married adult does not always have this option; he has a family to take care of, in addition to the fact that there’s a lot of hard work to be done before Pesach, which does not allow him to rest on Erev Pesach. By the time the seder arrives, he is fairly exhausted, and he does not feel excitement for the seder that he used to have.

He might try to inspire himself by picking up a new sefer about Pesach, or by going to a shiur from a speaker that has come to town. But he will find nothing works. The festival of Pesach cannot be felt properly through just hearing a nice ‘mussar’ thought which a lecturer has thrown into the audience on the night of Pesach.

What is the mistake that a person makes? It is because excitement works only for a child. When he was a child, as long as he had a new suit, and the table was set nicely, and the matzah smelled delicious, he felt Pesach. As an adult, he still retains those feelings, but it doesn’t help him feel the Yom Tov anymore. He is left without a taste for the Yom Tov. When he bites into his matzah on Pesach, it feels dry and tasteless, nothing more than the mix of water and flour that it is. That is all he’s feeling…

To truly experience Yom Tov, the feelings have to come from a whole new source than from until now. It is not about a child’s excitement anymore. The adult needs to experience the essence of the Yom Tov, and connect to it. There is nothing else for him to connect to.

Within this, there are two parts – there are concepts he can think about which are intellectually stimulating and cause him to think, and there are other parts to the Yom Tov which he feels emotionally connected to; but those ‘emotional’ aspects do not necessarily have to come from ‘excitement’.

Singing Halel by the seder at the top of his lungs, even screaming the words, will still not be enough to satisfy the adult’s need to experience the essence of the Yom Tov. A person can only connect to the essence of the Yom Tov when he can feel it in his soul.

The same is true for all other things as well: A true ‘feeling’ for something is not an emotionally charged kind of feeling. A true ‘feeling’ is when it is a feeling of the reality. It is something that can be felt on a daily basis, and throughout any given time of the day.

This doesn’t mean of course that a person should analyze the reality all day and write it down into a notebook in his hand. Rather, it just means that a person needs to breathe the reality that’s taking place in front of him – to feel it and live it.

Rabbi Moshe Gordon on Pesach

The Haggadah relates that:

In every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Mitzrayim, as it is says: “You shall tell your child on that day, it is because of this that Hashem did for me when I left Mitzrayim.”

In this mp3, Rabbi Moshe Gordon explores some of the classical approaches to understanding and fulfilling this Mitzvah. You can download it here.

And here is an amazing series of Shiurim by Rabbi Gordon on the Seder and the Haggadah which covers the major Rishonim, Achronim and Poskim on the mitzvos of Pesach night and the Hagaddah.

Seder
Kadesh and Arba Kosos
Urchatz Karpas Yachatz
Hallel Rachtza Matza Heseiba
Maror Korech Shulchan Orech
Afikomen Barech End of Hallel Nirtza after Seder

Haggadagh
Intro to Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim
HaLachma Anya Akiras HaShulchan Intro to Ma Nishtana
Ma Nishtana
Avadim Hayeinu Arami Oved Avi
Arami Oved Avi 2
Makos End of Magid

A Happier Purim

Happiness is a feeling of completion. When a person feels like they’re missing something, and then they get out of their lacking situation, they’re happy. The missing something can be a new house, a car, a vacation, or even that piece of chocolate that you want now.

A deeper sense of happiness is when we feel the completion with what we already have. That’s the happiness that comes from being with family, being with a loved one, or sitting in the Shul that you love.

The deepest level of happiness comes totally from within, it comes from a sense of being, not from having. It’s when we sense our own innate existence and we connect our existence to all of existence, and to the Creator of all existence. That’s the ultimate feeling of completion and happiness and it’s not dependent on anything we have or don’t have.

It’s hard to connect to our being, because in our world we are so focused on what we have, what we want, what we don’t have. The Purim story opens with the King of Persia throwing a massive 180 day party for all the people. The purpose of the party was to usher in a new world order of “having”, to replace a world of “being”. This is the world we live in today, one focused on “having” and not “being”.

On one level, the triumph of the Purim story is the defeat of the genocide promoting anti-Semite, Haman. The deeper victory is the fact that the Jews reconnected to a life of “being” and connecting to the Creator. As you know, G-d’s name is not written once in the entire Megillah, because His presence was not obviously manifested in the world. We live in that same world, where it’s often difficult to sense G-d’s presence and generate the joy of connecting to G-d, the source of all existence.

So when we hear the Megillah on Purim, we can connect to a deeper happiness. The Megillah helps us understand that there are no coincidences, only a Creator who is directing the crazy events in the world and in our lives, for our ultimate benefit. That ultimate benefit will come when we can connect to our own existence, and connect to the innate existence of others, and collectively connect to The Source of all existence. That is the ultimate happiness and completion, and we can all take a collective step in that direction in Shul this week.

Chag Someach – Happy Purim

The Joy of Purim – Arriving at True Happiness in our Souls

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.
Download a number of Drashos on Purim
Download the Drasha on Purim posted here

The First Simcha Was Between Adam and Chava In Gan Eden

The month of Adar, as is well-known, contains the special power of simcha (happiness). The happiness already starts from the beginning of the month – “When Adar enters, we increase our happiness”[1] – and it continues until it reaches its climax, on Purim. The joy of Purim is described in many verses in Megillas Esther[2]: “And the city of Shushan was joyous and glad”; as well as in the verse, “To the Jews, there was light, gladness, joy, and honor.” There was “happiness and gladness to the Jews, festivity and a day of celebration.”

Let us delve into the root understanding behind the joy of Purim, so that we can arrive at true happiness in our souls, with the help of Hashem.

Where do we find the first mention of simcha in the Torah? Who was the first person to rejoice? When we bless the chosson and kallah during Sheva Berachos, one of the blessings is: “Rejoice, beloved friends, as your Creator gladdened you in Gan Eden of old.” We are blessing the chosson and kallah that just as Hashem rejoiced Adam and Chava in Gan Eden, so should the chosson and kallah reach this level of simcha. The first simcha mentioned in the Torah was Adam and Chavah as they rejoiced in Gan Eden, and Hashem Himself, in all His honor and glory, was the One who gladdened them.

Different Expressions of Simcha

The Sages[3] list ten different expressions of happiness: sasson, simcha, gilah, rinah, ditzah, tzahalah, alizah, chedvah, tiferes, and alitzah. Six of these are mentioned in the blessings we give to the chosson and kallah: sasson, simcha, gilah, rinah, ditzah and chedvah.

We have already explained earlier about the different joys of sasson and simcha. Now we will reflect on the other four expressions which we bless the chosson and kallah with: gilah, rinah, ditzah, and chedvah.

The words rinah and ditzah contain the letters yud and hey, which spells a name of Hashem, while the word chedvah has the letters vuv and hey.

Let us try to understand the difference between these different expressions of simcha.

The word for “man” is Hebrew is ish, while woman is ishah. The word ish contains the letter yud and hey, while the word ishah contains the letters aleph, shin and hey, which spells the words “aish Hashem”, the “fire of Hashem.” When man and woman are unified through marriage, the happiness of gilah, rinah and ditzah are created. The letter yud of ish\man and the letter hey of the ishah\woman come together and form these three kinds of happiness – gilah, rinah, and ditzah, which all contain both the letters yud and hey.

If we reflect into the words of Megillas Esther, we see that the joy of the Purim miracle was actually brought about by Haman’s plan to annihilate the Jewish people. Haman was the descendant of Amalek – whom the Jewish people have endured much suffering from. The Sages said that from the time Amalek attacked the Jewish people, the Name of Hashem is incomplete; the letters yud and hey have been split apart from the other two letters, vov and hey, in Hashem’s Name – ever since Amalek attacked. The Name of Hashem will be incomplete until Amalek is erased.[4]

As long as Amalek exists, our simchos (happy celebrations) are never complete – although it appears that we are making simchos. Some simchos are like chedvah, and some simchos are like gilah, rinah and ditzah [but each of these is incomplete, for they each represent only half of Hashem’s Name].

In order to see how the joys of gilah, rinah and ditzah differ from chedvah, we need to see the contrast between these different kinds of happiness.

Chedva – Joy Based On Unifying With Others

The word of “one” in Hebrew is echad, and in Aramaic, “one” is “chad.” In the Aramaic version, the letter aleph is taken away from the word echad, which spells “chad”. The first two letters of the word chedvah – the letters ches and daled – are related to the word yachad, “together”, which connotes unity. When we add on the last two letters of the word chedvah – the letters vov and hey – we have essentially unified the letters vov and hey. Chedva is thus a concept of unifying that which was used to be apart; Chedva takes two separate parts and unifies them into one.

It is thus fitting that chedvah should be one of the expressions of joy found in the blessing given to the chosson and kallah, because man and woman, who were previously separated, are now being united through marriage.

We also find a usage of the term chedva by Yisro, who rejoiced when he heard about all the miracles of the Jewish people, and he was thus drawn to the Torah; it is written, “Vayichad Yisro”[5], “And Yisro rejoiced” – “Vayichad”, from the word “chedvah.”

This is the joy of Chedvah – when one succeeds in unifying with something that used to be apart from him. Unity causes joy, and there is thus joy between newlyweds, for the single man and woman used to be apart, and now they have unified.

Gilah, Rinah and Ditzah – Joy Based On Unity Within

But the other kinds of happiness – Gilah, Rinah and Ditzah – are a different concept than Chedvah. These are kinds of joy that one attains when he connects to his own self.

Most people are not always happy. Why?

It because most of us are in a situation of “half a body” – we are split apart inside our own self, and this is due to our many doubts that plague us; our doubts give us no rest, and this makes us disconnected from our own inner self.

Our sefarim hakedoshim state, “There is no happiness like the clarification of doubts.”[6] When a person succeeds in removing his doubts, he attains somewhat of a connection to his inner self, and he feels a certain joyous satisfaction from this. These are the joys of gilah, rinah and ditzah.

We have thus seen two kinds of happiness: joy upon connecting with others – such as marriage between man and woman – and the joy of connecting to oneself.

Joy From The Outside Is Superficial

The joy of chedvah is thus when we unify with something that was apart from us, while the joys of gilah, rinah and ditzah are when we attain unity within our own soul.

Let us reflect: Is most of our happiness coming from within ourselves, or is it coming from something outside of ourselves? Upon a little thinking, we will discover that most of our happiness is coming from externalities, such as: buying a new house, buying a new car, buying a new suit, getting married. Most of our simcha is coming to us when we “get” something from the outside. For this reason, most of our happiness is not complete, because as long as out happiness is coming from something external, it is only temporary. The happiness we are often experiencing is often temporary; the things that are making us happy come and go.

How can we reach complete happiness? It can be reached if we succeed in unifying the parts of our soul together; this will cause us to have an inner joy, and it will lead us to attaining a complete kind of happiness.

Most of us have disparity in our soul; we are constantly full of desires that contradict each other. A person has many things he would like to do each day, and the day simply isn’t long enough to fulfill of these desires. He is left with no choice but to prioritize what he wants the most and give up pursuing some of his desires. We are all full of many retzonos (desires), and these retzonos are all contradicting each other! We are sensible people who possess daas (mature thinking) and therefore we are able to choose what our priorities are. But we are still left with many contradicting desires within us, and this prevents us from attaining any complete happiness.

“When Wine Enters, Secrets Come Out”

If a person succeeds in attaining his inner happiness, he reveals a whole new depth to his soul, as we are about to explain. The words of the Sages are well-known: “When wine enters, secrets come out.”[7] Wine bears a connection with revealing our innermost secrets. It is also written, “Wine gladdens the heart of man.”[8] Wine bears a connection with happiness. Wine reveals our secrets, and this somehow brings out our happiness. What is the connection between our secrets and our happiness?

We first need to reflect into what this means. When the Sages said that wine reveals secrets, what kind of secrets were they referring to? Were they referring to us a secret that our mother told us when we were children, which we never told anyone before, and then on Purim we get intoxicated and then reveal those secrets…? Any sensible person knows that such secrets have nothing to do with the wine of Purim. So what kind of secrets were Chazal talking about, that wine can come and reveal?

Chazal were telling us that wine reveals our innermost secrets. They were revealing to us that through wine, we can reveal our innermost secrets – the depths of our soul.

What is a secret? If Reuven tells a secret to Shimon and he tells him not to tell anyone, even this isn’t considered a total secret. Theoretically, Reuven can give permission to Shimon to reveal the secret, so the secret isn’t considered to be a total secret.

If someone is sitting in his house and daydreaming, nobody else knows what he is thinking. But is that called a secret? If it is, then the whole world is full of secrets…! So this can’t either be the meaning of “secret.”

What is a true kind of secret? A true secret is something that is concealed from a person. A secret is when a person isn’t aware of himself, when he’s not aware of what’s going on deep down inside himself. This is a secret, because the person is living with himself all the time and he thinks that he knows himself, while he really doesn’t know himself at all. That’s a secret.

Is there any person who can say that he understands what is going on in the depths of his heart?! Anyone who thinks that he knows himself well is someone who really doesn’t know himself at all! Anyone who has a little bit of self-awareness is well-aware that the soul is full of so much depth, layer within layer – and that more depth to our soul is being revealed with the more and more we live our life. Nobody can say that he really knows what’s going on deep down inside himself.

“When wine enters, secrets come out” means that wine can reveal an additional depth to a person about his own soul – things that he was previously unaware of.

The Secrets Which the Wine Reveals

We can now reach a new understanding in this statement of Chazal, “When wine enters, secrets come out.” From where are our secrets coming out from? A superficial understanding is that our secrets are coming out of our mouth; that when a person gets intoxicated, secrets come forth from his mouth. It’s clear to all that this is not what Chazal mean. According to what we explained above, wine can get our consciousness (in Hebrew, hakarah or muda) to become aware of what’s going on in our sub-conscious (in Hebrew, tat-hakarah or tat-muda). Wine can serve to reveal our innermost depths of the soul – depths which we had been previously been unaware of.

“When wine enters, secrets come out.” Our subconscious desires, which used to be a secret to us, can be revealed to us through the wine, and thus, the wine reveals to our “secrets.” When our soul becomes revealed to us, this causes us to have an inner happiness.

This is a kind of happiness which is totally different that the regular kind of happiness we are familiar with, which is when we get new things. It is a happiness that takes place internally, and it is called the joy of chedvah: when our soul unifies with itself.

What takes place when our soul becomes unified within ourselves? Let us reflect about this.

When a person has doubts, these doubts are found within a certain layer of his soul. How can a person solve his doubts? The superficial way to solve doubts is to calmly weigh the options and then decide what to do. If a person can’t decide alone, he’ll ask someone else for advice.

But there is an inner method a person can use to solve his doubts, and that is when a person reveals a greater depth to his soul. The doubts are then removed automatically. This is the meaning behind how “Wine enters, secrets come out.” The whole reason why we can ever have a doubt is because a certain layer of our soul was hidden from us. Through drinking the wine on Purim, we can reveal a deeper layer in our soul which we previously were unaware of – and this removes the source of the doubt.

Understandably, this does not mean that wine creates new depth to our soul. The wine isn’t creating anything in us. It is just that through drinking the wine, the resulting intoxication can make us become aware of the more hidden parts of our soul – and this in turn reveals to us new depth about ourselves.

As a simple example, let’s say a person is beginning to learn Torah, and he’s not sure about which area in Torah he should learn. He narrows it down to two options, but he can’t decide. Later on in his life he can gain more understanding about himself, and then he will discover that one of the options isn’t the path that is meant for his soul to take.

Another example: as long as a person doesn’t know himself well – the nature of his personality – if he’s looking for a certain job, he’s not sure about what kind of job will work for him. When he gets to know himself better, the doubts become non-existent.

There is a huge difference between these two different solutions to our doubts. The first method is superficial, because when a person decides between two options, he can still be bothered by the second option; it is just that he has decided to go with the first option. But with the deeper method – which is when a person discovers new depth to his soul, through attaining greater self-awareness – he has no doubt whatsoever. He sees clearly what the truth is, and he feels inner happiness at this. “There is no happiness like the clarification of doubts.”

The Conscious and The Sub-Conscious

Now that we have explained that wine serves to reveal the innermost depths of the soul to a person, we need to understand: How does this work? How exactly does wine reveal to us what’s going on in our soul?

As is well-known, we all have in us abilities that are revealed to us, and we also have abilities which we aren’t yet aware of. In more modern language, we have in us a conscious and a sub-conscious. Our Rabbis knew about this before modern psychology discovered this. Reb Yisrael Salanter described our consciousness as our revealed abilities (“kochos giluyim”), while our subconscious is described as our unrevealed abilities (“kochos keihim”).

What is our subconscious – our unrevealed abilities?

Reb Yisrael Salanter gave us an example which illustrates the concept. Once there was a Rosh Yeshiva who had a son and a student, and to his great pain, his son went astray from being religious. The student, however, remained powerfully connected to his beloved teacher, and was utterly loyal to him. As time went on, the father grew more attached in love with his student than with his son, while he grew more and more estranged from his son, to the point of hatred.

Then, in middle of the night, a fire suddenly broke out in the building where both his son and student slept. The father is woken up in middle of the night and he is told that he only has enough to save one of them: either his beloved student – or his rebellious son, who has caused him so much grief. Which one of them will he save?

Reb Yisrael Salanter answered: He will instinctively run to save his son! All of his anger toward his son gets pushed aside, now that he has to choose between his son and his student. Now, if he would have had time to think about this, he would choose to save his student, who is more precious to him than his son. But when he gets woken up in the middle of the night and there is no time to think, he’s acting upon his subconscious. What’s going on in his subconscious? Deep down, he loves his son more than the student; it has just been pushed under all this time. When push comes to shove, the inner love for his son gets awakened, and it overpowers the love he has for his student.

Once a student of Rav Dessler zt”l came to him and told him that he had a nightmare: he had a dream in which he killed his son. He was terrified at the meaning of the dream and asked how was it possible that he could have such thoughts in his head, when he loved his son very much; did it mean that he really wanted to kill his son?! Rav Dessler told him, “Sometimes, you son cries at night and wakes you up at night. For a few seconds, you are so annoyed at him at waking you up, that you wish he wouldn’t exist. That is why you were able to have such a nightmare.”

Would the father ever consciously wish he could kill his son? Chas v’shalom; of course not. But in a dream, a person is shown what’s going on in his subconscious, and he is shown that he has such quickly passing thoughts.

How can a person discover what’s going on in his subconscious? It is written, “On my bed at nights, I sought that which my soul loved.”[9] If a person wants to find out what he truly desires deep down in his soul, it is revealed to him “on my bed at nights” – when he’s asleep and dreaming. Sometimes a person is shown his subconscious when he’s partially asleep, when he’s still a bit conscious; and sometimes he is shown his subconscious when he’s totally asleep, which is when he’s dreaming.

Bringing Our Sub-Conscious Into Our Conscious

It is now upon us to think into the following.

If a person is having negative kinds of thoughts that are passing through his quickly throughout the day – subconsciously – what can he do about this? Most people aren’t bothered by these negative thoughts. When people get these strange thoughts, they quickly push them aside, and they do not try to figure out what factor triggered those thoughts.

But when a person wants to understand himself well, he is bothered by negative thoughts even if they pass by in his mind very quickly. He begins to learn about what his thoughts are[10], and he realizes that his thoughts are showing him what’s going on in his subconscious.

The solution is not to try and push aside the unwanted thoughts; to the contrary, let the thoughts stay, so you can see what’s going in your subconscious [unless they are forbidden thoughts]. After this comes the next step: a person should not be focused on the actual thoughts themselves, but on the information that the thoughts are revealing.

If a person only tries to work on awareness of his thoughts, he will attempt to push aside his negative thoughts, and he won’t be able to truly grow and better himself. He’s running away from the root of the problem. The problem is not his negative thoughts; the negative thoughts he’s experiencing are merely branches of the problem. The root of the problem is the sub-conscious in himself which hasn’t yet been purified. So just dismissing the thoughts will not really be solving the problem at its root, but rather avoiding the problem.

The real solution is not to push aside the negative thoughts, but rather, to let them be. See what they are revealing. This will be a double gain. First of all, one will be able to realize what his weaknesses are, and this will help him more self-aware to fix them. Secondly, he will able to notice his qualities which he was previously unaware of, and thus come to utilize his potential.

The Way To Recognize Your Subconscious Thoughts

Our subconscious is contained in every one of our souls, but they aren’t accessed simply through our mind. The thoughts coming from our subconscious come to us in quick flashes, like lightning. Lightning comes where it’s dark and cloudy, and then it is gone in a flash; it’s gone as quickly as it came, just as it’s impossible to calculate the exact moment that lightning strikes.

This can give us some idea about the thoughts contained in our subconscious. These inner thoughts are termed in the sefarim hakedoshim as “birds that fly in the sky”; they pass quickly, flying away very fast, like birds. They pass in our head so quickly that often we are unaware of them at all. But the more a person elevates himself spiritually, the more he enters inward, the more he can become aware of his deeds, words and his thoughts.

The way to become aware of our thoughts is by listening within ourselves, which is a subtle kind of listening.[11] When we notice the suddenly passing thoughts, we can then better recognize what’s going on in our subconscious.

Our subconscious cannot be reached through trying to think about it; we cannot reach our subconscious, which is hidden, through our conscious mind, which is revealed to us. If we try to reach our subconscious through our conscious mind, this is like trying to water a plant from the top of the earth, without taking care of the roots underneath.

Revealing Our Subconscious – Through Getting Intoxicated On Purim

There is another way to reveal our subconscious [besides for noticing our quickly passing thoughts], and that is through drinking the wine on Purim and thereby becoming intoxicated [in the proper way, as we will soon explain].

The Hebrew words shechor (blackness) and sheichar (intoxicating beverage) have the same root letters; they both contains the letters ches and chof. This hints to us that the nighttime, which is blackness, reveals to us the same things which intoxication can reveal to us.

The Sages explain that the word “Achashveirosh” contains the same letters of the word shechor (black), because he “blackened” the eyes of the Jewish people with his decrees. To counter his darkness which he brought upon the Jewish people, we intoxicate ourselves with the holy kind of darkness – the sheichar, the intoxicating beverages.

This is the purpose of getting intoxicated on Purim: by getting intoxicated, we are able to become aware of what’s going on in the depths of our soul.

How Much Should We Drink On Purim?

In the words of our holy Rabbis, there are differing opinions concerning how intoxicated one should become on Purim. The halachah is that “One is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim until he does not know the difference between Blessed is Mordechai and Cursed Is Haman”; one of the Rabbis wrote that it was revealed to him in a dream that one has to get intoxicated only until that point, but not beyond that. In other words, one should drink on Purim more than he usually does (which is the view of the Rema[12]), but he should not get to the point in which he is so drunk that he doesn’t know the difference between Mordechai and Haman.

There is a differing opinion of our Rabbis, which is to get drunk in the simple sense – that one should get so drunk to the point where he does not know the difference between Mordechai and Haman.

This is the argument, but for every argument of our Sages, there is always a rule that “Their words, and their words, are the words of the living G-d.”[13] Therefore, both opinions are correct; let us understand how they both can be true.

As is well-known, most people get to know themselves a lot better when they become intoxicated. The truth is that the whole intention of why we should get intoxicated on Purim is for this very reason: to reveal our inner essence – our pure soul. Since most people are not in touch with their pure essence, we are commanded to intoxicate ourselves on Purim so that our inner purity can burst forth.

The more a person works to purify himself inwardly, the more his intoxication is coming from deep within. Of him, the mitzvah to become intoxicated on Purim is to get to the point of ad d’lo yoda, in which he does not know the difference between Mordechai and Haman – for the whole purpose is to reveal outward the beauty and purity of his soul hidden deep within him.

But if a person hasn’t worked to purify himself internally, then when he gets intoxicated, much of the garbage that has piled up inside him throughout the year will come pouring out. We often see people on Purim who are rolling around in the street in their drunkenness, spewing forth all their inner emptiness. Of these kinds of people, getting drunk on Purim should only have been until ad d’lo yoda, but not beyond that point; they have should gotten only up until the point of ad d’lo yoda, and they should not have gone beyond that.

How can a person know if he should only get intoxicated until the point of ad d’lo yoda, but not beyond that – or if he is meant to go beyond lo yoda?

The way to know this is hinted to in the concept we brought before: that shechor\blackness and sheichar\intoxication have the same root. Most people, if they would be walking alone at night, in a forest, would be very scared. Darkness, shechor, is a power in Creation that causes us to have fear. Since shechor is reflected in sheichar\intoxication, this kind of person, when he gets intoxicated, will reveal forth the level he’s really on if he were to walk alone through a forest at night…

There are a few exceptional individuals of whom it can be applied the possuk, “To tell over in the morning of Your kindness, and of Your faith at nights.”[14] When someone walks alone through a forest at night, and he still has emunah – he is the kind of person who can become completely intoxicated on Purim yet elevate himself through it. His intoxication will only serve to reveal forth his inner essence, which has become purified through emunah – for he completely trusts in Hashem.

Thus, becoming intoxicated reveals what’s going in the depths of each person’s soul. If someone has worked to purify his soul, getting intoxicated will revealed forth the beauty and holiness of his soul. Such a person reaches the intended purpose of Chazal when they enacted that we should become drunk on Purim.

Most people, however, do not reach the intended purpose of getting intoxicated on Purim. When they get drunk, the worst in them is brought out. Getting drunk thus causes most people to lower their self-image in the eyes of others. This resembles a person who places a big sign on himself that advertises all his worst shortcomings, and then he walks all over town with it.

Each person needs to figure out if it’s worth it for him to get drunk on Purim. A person has to ask himself: “If I get drunk on Purim, will I behave in the way that Chazal intended me to?”

If a person knows himself well and he knows that he has worked more to purify himself internally during the year, then he is able to fulfill ad d’lo yoda on Purim. But if a person knows that he will come to improper behavior when he gets to the point of ad d’lo yoda, then he must know that for him, getting on Purim totally defeats the purpose of Purim.

The Purpose of Getting Drunk On Purim

Now that we have clarified who should be getting drunk on Purim, we can now explain what indeed we are trying to gain from getting drunk on Purim.

When a person has worked to purify himself internally, there is still more depth to himself that he doesn’t know about. When he gets intoxicated, he can discover new depth to himself which he never knew about until now.

Chazal said that “When wine enters, secrets come out.” To the degree that one has revealed his soul, greater secrets will be revealed from within, through the wine on Purim. Thus, to someone who has purified himself internally, getting intoxicated through the wine of Purim will bring him a kind of joy that is inner and G-dly. The wine of Purim, for such a person, acts to reveal forth his inner purity, which he was previously unaware of. The wine of Purim allows such a person to identify with greater and deeper spiritual attainments that he didn’t reach until now. Of this we can apply the possuk, “Wine gladdens the heart of man.”[15]There is no greater happiness than this, and only an internal kind of person merits it.

When the wine on Purim serves to achieve this holy goal – revealing to greater depths to the person about his pure soul – after Purim, the person will feel that he has been elevated spiritually. The ensuing inner happiness he will feel after Purim will burst out of him.

But most people have not worked to purify themselves inwardly. One might look like a very happy person on Purim to those who observe him, but this is only because wine temporarily puts a person into a good mood. We can see clearly that people start out happy on Purim when they’re drunk, but then they become depressed; a sort of melancholy comes upon them from getting drunk. There are a very large amount of people on Purim who cry bitterly when they’re drunk.

Where is this sadness coming from? It is really coming from the bitter truth that is being revealed to the person on Purim: he has not yet purified himself internally, and the wine reveals forth all of his deep sadness. He is terribly and profoundly sad deep down, and all of this comes out when he’s drunk. He will become sad from this revelation, and so of course, he cries.

Chazal say, “One who sees a sotah[16] in her ruination should abstain himself from wine.”[17] The deep explanation of this matter is that from the case of sotah, we can see how low a level a person can sink to when he’s drunk [and to take a lesson from this, one should avoid getting drunk].

Facing Our Fears

According to the above, we can now understand well what the connection that getting drunk on Purim has with the Purim miracle.

When a person is going through a distressful time, how does he react? One kind of person will fall into despair and completely lose hope. As it is written in the Megillah, “K’asher avadti, avadti” – “For I am surely lost.” But an internal kind of person, when he goes through a time of distress, uses it as an opportunity to summon forth inner strengths which he never knew about before.

If we ask anyone who persevered through an intensely troublesome time in their life: “Did you think you had the strength to survive such an ordeal, before you went through this?” they will often answer in the negative. They were unaware that they possessed such stamina to undergo the hardships they went thought, but really, they had the strength all along. It was just hidden deep within. When a person goes through a tzarah (a time of distress), he is able to reveal forth his hidden strengths of his soul, which he never knew he possessed.

Every person should reflect and think into the following. If you would know for sure that in two weeks, a decree would go out in your country that all Jews should become annihilated – just as in the times of Haman, who decrees genocide upon the Jewish people – how would we react? Understandably, there would be people who would right away fall into despair, and their first reaction would be to flee to another country. Their reaction would resemble how the Jews in the desert wished to return to the Egypt…

But an internal kind of person would face the fear in the right way. He would be able to summon forth new fortification from within himself that he was previously unaware of, and instead of having thoughts of running away from the danger, he would “run away” into a place in his own soul in which no one can harm him. Instead of falling into despair from the danger, he becomes elevated from the situation, revealing forth from within himself great spiritual stamina.

This was what the Jewish people revealed on Purim. Haman decreed that all Jews be annihilated, and Achashveirosh, who was the most powerful king in the world then, was ready to carry it out. According to nature, he should have succeeded. It was a situation of utter and palpable fear; each person felt it totally.

But they did not despair, in spite of their predicament. They escaped from the danger into an inner place in their souls, and revealed forth new depth to themselves. They had never known beforehand that they possessed such stamina. When the decree was nullified, they merited to receive the Torah in a whole new way.

The Essence of Our Avodah on Purim

The big secret about Purim is to show us that during the rest of the year, we really do have the strength to uncover new depth about our soul. Although we do not face physical danger to our lives nowadays [of course, sometimes there are anti-Semitic events that take place in our times today, and this awakens us to feel an idea of what it felt like during the times of Haman’s decrees; but generally speaking, the Jewish people does not face genocide these days], on Purim, we are able to return to the inner depth of our souls, which was what the Jewish people revealed during the era of the Purim story. We must try on Purim to reach the level which the Jewish people attained on Purim.

When a person never matures in his spiritual situation, then even when he is seventy years old, he remains at the level he was like when he was seven. He continues to enjoy his childish antics even as he supposedly “matures” through life. Something that truly illustrates what we mean is the following example: We can find people who sincerely believe that Purim is about acting like a little child! Their entire Purim consists of costumes and decorative makeup, in a way most fitting for a child’s playgroup room.

But someone who has a matured at least a bit about his life – and we do not mean just physically, but that his heart has become more developed to sensing the inwardness in reality – if he is someone who at least searches a little for the truth, he understands clearly that Purim is something deep and profound. He understands that Purim is about revealing new depth to our soul, to reveal from ourselves abilities that we never knew about beforehand.

Every mitzvah we have on Purim contains depth to it. There is depth to the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos (sending gifts to our friends). There is depth to our mitzvah of reading the Megillah. There is depth to eating the meal of Purim. And there is depth to getting drunk on Purim – a great depth.

If a person wants to really know if he has grown spiritually from Purim, he should discern if he has revealed new depth to his soul as a result of drinking on Purim. He should ask himself: “Am I more self-aware now? Do I know things about myself now which I never knew about before? Or was just in another Purim that came and went, with nothing special about it…?”

One of the ways how we become more self-aware of our soul is through drinking on Purim. But as we cautioned before, getting drunk can backfire on a person, if he is the kind of person who should not be getting drunk; he will only spew forth negativity. Understandably, this is not the purpose of Purim.

If Chazal would have intended that people should get drunk on Purim in order to release all their negativity outward, then getting drunk on Purim would mean that we have to simply let loose; and then perhaps the person would have to write down how he behaved when he was drunk…

But, we know clearly that Chazal’s intention that we should get drunk on Purim was not so that should a person should release his negativity. It is about being more aware of the more inner layers in our soul. That is why ad d’lo yoda is only meant for one who has worked to purify and cleanse himself internally.

Higher Than The Subconscious: “Above” The Conscious

Now that we have explained at length about our conscious (kochos giluyim\revealed abilities) and our sub-conscious (kochos keihim\ hidden abilities) we can now explain another layer in our soul: the layer of the soul that is above our conscious. We will also explain how we reveal it on Purim.

Our conscious is what we aware of, while our subconscious is the part of our self that we aren’t aware of. We also are not aware of what lays above our conscious. This sounds like the same thing as our subconscious, but we will explain how they are different. What we also need to understand is, if the area above our conscious is clearly above our conscious thoughts, then how can we incorporate anything that’s above our consciousness into how we act, since action is on a lower plane than thought?

There is a fundamental difference between the sub-conscious and the above-conscious. Our sub-conscious is the desires in us which we are unaware of. These are things we want, but we aren’t aware that we want them; our deeper desires are hidden from us. By contrast, our above-conscious refers to the higher will that is implanted in us, which is leading us in how we act.

When we are aware of what we want, these desires are called our conscious. When we want something but we are unaware that we want it, this kind of desire is called a sub-conscious desire. Even if these sub-conscious desires are more powerful than our clearly revealed conscious desires, the deep desires are still considered to be only in our sub-conscious, since we are unaware of these deeper desires. But if we have deep desires which are actively affecting how we act in our life – and these are desires which we are unaware of – these desires are called our “above-conscious” desires.

The “above-conscious” desires are above a person, but they are desires that are actively affecting how a person acts, in spite of the fact that the person is unaware of these desires. We can compare this to a plane that in on auto-pilot. It seems to the onlooker as if the pilot sitting in the cockpit is the one who is controlling the plane, but the plane is really being controlled by a difference person, who is sitting far away in a control station.

Bechirah and Emunah

We will now sharpen the ramifications of this concept.

Whenever a person does anything, two forces are going on in his soul. One of them is called the power of bechirah (free will). The other force is called emunah (faith). When a person is acting upon his bechirah, his will to act is coming from within himself – whether he is aware of this consciously, or only subconsciously. By contrast, someone acting upon emunah is acting from above his conscious – he is being led by his emunah, which essentially means that he is being led by the Creator.

Our bechirah tells us that we are in charge, for we decide how we will act. We are either aware of this consciously or sub-consciously, but either way, when we use our bechirah, we think that we are in charge. By contrast, our above-conscious, our emunah, tells us that we are not in control, because there is a Higher Power in charge of us – the Creator.

The above-conscious is called so not just because we are unaware of it, but because it shows us that there are matters which are beyond our control that are guiding us; and their source is the Creator. So our sub-conscious and our above-conscious are the deep parts to our self which are controlling us. Most of our bechirah is not being utilized through our conscious state, but through our sub-conscious. When we consciously use our bechirah, it is about getting something done, but when it comes to choosing what we want, this bechirah is taking place in our sub-conscious. The sub-conscious is the source which is writing our desires into action.

Higher than our point of subconscious bechirah is our point of above-conscious. This is the higher power in a person which controls and directs a person’s life, and it is being provided by the Creator.

Intoxication on Purim Can Reveal Our Emunah

Now we can understand that the concept of “When wine enters, secrets come out” is not just referring to how wine reveals our subconscious into our conscious. Rather, the main purpose of the wine is to reveal to us the deeper force in us than our subconscious: our point of above-consciousness.

In other words, revealing the subconscious is not yet the ultimate level that can be reached on Purim. If a person merits to uncover more depth to his soul, the secret that the wine will reveal forth from him will be his innermost desire of the soul, the deepest ratzon (will) of his being – the will to do Hashem’s will.

This revelation that can take place does not just come as an additional piece of knowledge to the person, but as a soul experience. Let us explain this.

If anyone asked whom they believe is running the world, the answer is: “The Creator, Hashem.” But if someone is asked, “But is that how you feel?” then we will get different answers. Not everyone will answer in the affirmative.

The wine of Purim can help a person bring his knowledge about belief in the Creator to become an actual feeling. Through being intoxicated, the wine can transfer the above-conscious into our conscious state – through the means of our sub-conscious. A person will then be able to sense, in a palpable way, Who is running the world: only Hashem.

Megillas Esther: Revealing The Hidden

As is well-known, “Megillas Esther” can mean the revelation (Megillas, from the word giluy\revelation) of the hidden (esther, from the word hester\concealed or hidden). Megillas Esther reveals the hidden – it revealed matters which had previously been hidden. The word Megillah seems to be the total opposite concept of the word Esther, because Megillah refers to the revealed, while Esther refers to the hidden. But Megillas Esther shows us that it’s not a contradiction; it reveals what used to be hidden – that whatever was considered hidden until now has now become revealed.

It can be said, as a borrowed terminology, that every person contains in his soul a kind of “Megillas Esther.” The hidden parts to our self are our sub-conscious and our above-conscious, and Megillas Esther represents our ability to reveal the realm of the sub-conscious and the above-conscious into the realm of our consciousness. Our bechirah, which is present in our sub-conscious, is hidden from us; and our emunah, which is present above our conscious, is also hidden from us. Megillas Esther can show us how we can reveal these hidden parts to our self and bring them into our conscious awareness.

As we go throughout the day living our life, we are experiencing life through our conscious awareness, while we experience our subconscious only sometimes. Most people are not experiencing their above-conscious – their emunah. Even though most people will say that they believe in Hashem and that He’s running everything, there are very few people who are living and experiencing their emunah.

Megillas Esther is the megillah, the revelation, of the hidden. It shows us the hidden parts to our soul – our subconscious and our above-conscious. In the words of our Rabbis, the Megillas Esther can reveal to us our subconscious bechirah, and it can also reveal to us our emunah – our higher will, which is deep down guiding us.

The Meaning Behind Mishloach Manos

Another mitzvah that Chazal commanded us with in Purim is the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos, to send gifts of food to our friends. Let’s think into this. What does sending gifts to our friends have to do with the miracle of Purim, which is that we were saved from genocide?

As is well-known, the purpose of this mitzvah, Mishloach Manos, is to increase love and friendship between our fellow Jews. Simply, we understand about that this is accomplished in the best way by finding someone who we don’t like, and by giving him Mishloach Manos; and we hope that our enemy will open up the door for us when we show up at his house.

But the depth behind the mitzvah is that since our inner essence can become revealed on Purim, our inner love for other Jews will hopefully come with this – and that is why we are commanded to give Mishloach Manos on Purim.

Mishloach Manos must be sent from “man to his friend,” as the Megillah states, which implies that if you think there’s someone who you didn’t think was your friend yesterday, he’s really your friend! This is what Purim reveals – our inherent love with each other. Mishloach Manos is not just about giving to our friends; the main point of it is to give to those whom we aren’t friendly with, and to discover that they, too, are our friends. Through Purim, we can discover our subconscious; our subconscious tells us that we have bechirah and choose if we will hate others or not. Therefore, if we hate any Jew, it’s only because we are choosing to, and it’s the wrong decision to choose.

If we reach even deeper into ourselves on Purim, we reach our above-conscious, which is deeper than the sub-conscious. Our above-conscious reveals to us a deeper understanding than what we discover in our sub-conscious: that even if someone has hurt you in the past, it’s not him who hurt you; he was only a messenger of Hashem, because ultimately, it is Hashem who is in charge. If someone was supposed to get insulted and hurt by someone else, this was decreed on him by Hashem. When someone realizes this, his hatred toward his abuser will melt and eventually disappear.[18]

This is the meaning of Mishloach Manos, gift-baskets that a “man sends to his friend.” Purim serves to reveal to a person a whole new inner depth, and upon reaching that deep perception, a person can send Mishloach Manos to others.

Purim Is Holier Than Yom Kippur

Understanding this, we can now come to appreciate the great spiritual benefit of the day of Purim. The sefarim hakedoshim explain that Purim is a holier day than Yom Kippur, because “Kippur” can be read “like Pur”, a hint to how Yom Kippur is almost as holy as Purim. This implies that Purim is holier than Yom Kippur.

What is the connection between Yom Kippur and Purim? They are both special opportunities to attain unity with other Jews. One’s sins are not for atoned on Yom Kippur unless he has been forgiven from any wrongdoing he did to others.[19]

Purim is an opportunity to gain even an even higher degree of unity than the good terms with others that we must have on Yom Kippur. When we ask forgiveness from others, even if we are forgiven, there are still some hard feelings. The person who was hurt still feels that he was hurt even after he forgives the other, and it is just that he has forgiven the one who hurt him. But on Purim, the message of Mishloach Manos reveals to us a greater sense of bonding with others: that we are able to feel that no one did any harm to us at all. From that understanding, we strive to give Mishloach Manos.

Thus, the mitzvah of reading the Megillas Esther hints to us that on Purim, we can reveal the hidden. The mitzvah of Mishloach Manos and the mitzvah of ad d’lo yoda, as we explained, are also about revealing the hidden depth in ourselves.

Pre-Packaged Mishloach Manos

Something that has become popular in our times is that people go to the store and buy pre-packaged Mishloach Manos; some of them are more expensive than others. For someone’s close friends, he buys them an expensive package, and for those who he’s not as close with, he buys a cheaper one. There is already a greeting written on the Mishloach Manos that comes with the package, and the buyer simply fills in the name and address of where it has to go to, and whom it’s from. It is then sent through a delivery man (one thing they haven’t figured out yet, though, is how to get the deliverer to give it with his heart to the recipient…). In this way, people think that they have fulfilled the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos in the most beautiful fashion.

Any sensible person understands that this is not the intended kind of Mishloach Manos. When we give Mishloach Manos to others, it has to come from an inner place in ourselves, and not in the usual way that we give gifts to our friends during the rest of the year.

Every person should ask himself: “What is motivating me to give Mishloach Manos?” Of course, the main reason we are giving is because Chazal commanded us to. But if we perform this mitzvah mechanically and not from an inner place in ourselves, it’s like “a body without a soul”. The soul of Mishloach Manos is that we need to use it as a tool to reveal a sense of inner unity with other Jews.

If we reflect into what we said before, we can see that Purim is totally different than all other auspicious times of the year. We will not get into now what each Yom Tov reveals for us; but what we will say is something general, that each Yom Tov serves to reveal a special power of our soul. Purim is not like any other Yom Tov; Purim reveals the very root of our soul, a point that is way above our conscious state.

Revealing The Inner Essence of Purim

What is the root of Purim’s essence? Why indeed is Purim such a special time? It is because the Purim miracle that took place during the times of Mordechai and Esther transcribed only due to their mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice for Hashem).

When a Jew has mesirus nefesh, besides for the fact that he gets eternally rewarded for this in the Next World, there is much more that he gains. Through mesirus nefesh for Hashem, a person reveals the depth of his soul – his true, inner self.

It is said in the name of the Arizal that the tzaddikim throughout the generations who were killed al kiddush Hashem (in sanctification of Hashem’s Name) did not actually experience any pain when they were being killed! This applies as well to Rabbi Akiva, who was killed by the Roman with iron combs; because he died al kiddush Hashem, he did not feel pain at all, even as he was being killed. How could such a thing be?? How could they not have felt pain? It is because when a person reaches mesirus nefesh, he reaches the inner essence of his soul, and his soul has an entirely different perspective on things. The soul of a person is able to view this situation with such loftiness that the person experiences no physical pain whatsoever.

The mesirus nefesh which Mordechai and Esther had is what enables them to reach the depth of their own souls, and this power is available as well as an accessible spiritual light that shines on Purim. When a person merits to access the spiritual opportunity of Purim, he merits as well to reach the deep revelation his own soul.

When One Cannot Differentiate Between Mordechai and Haman

Concerning our mitzvah to become intoxicated on Purim through wine, Chazal said: “One is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim ad d’lo yoda bein arur Haman l’baruch Mordechai (until he does not know the difference between ‘Cursed is Haman’ and ‘Blessed is Mordechai’).[20]

How does a person reach such a level, in which he does not know the difference between how Haman is cursed and Mordechai is blessed? The simple understanding of this is that a person has to become so drunk to the point that he is totally confused, and then he can’t tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman.

But what still needs to be understood is: Why do Chazal want a person to become so drunk?

As is well-known, the words “Arur Haman” and “Baruch Mordechai” have the same gematria (numerical value in Hebrew); they both equal to be 502. This is meant to show us that when a person becomes so intoxicated to the point that he reaches the innermost point of his soul – his place in himself where he feels complete emunah in the Creator – he can then reach the understanding that just as Mordechai helped the generation see how everything is in the hands of Hashem, so did Haman serve to accomplish this!

This is the depth to the statement of Chazal, “The removal of the ring of Achashveirosh [to allow Haman’s decree] was greater than all the [accomplishments] of all 48 prophets and 7 prophetesses who prophesized for the Jewish people; for all of the prophecies did not cause them to repent, while Achashveirosh caused them to repent.” [21]

Of course, this does not mean to imply that the wickedness of Haman is to be equated with the pure goodness of Mordechai. It is just that Haman was able to move us to do teshuvah, even more than our leaders and tzaddikim tried to do; and our enemy Pharoah is praised in a similar way, because his cruel decrees aroused the Jewish people to do teshuvah.[22]

When a person understands simply that Mordechai and Haman are different, because Haman is cursed and Mordechai is blessed, then it shows that he’s only in his conscious state. When a person becomes intoxicated and he reaches lo yoda bein Arur Haman L’Baruch Mordechai, he has reached his subconscious; he realizes that Hashem is in charge of everything, and therefore he is able to realize how even Haman’s decree of genocide was constructive for the Jewish people, because ultimately, the decree is what moved us to teshuvah and thus be saved.

Balancing Efforts With Emunah

Chazal state that when Haman argued with Achashveirosh to issue the decree against the Jewish people, Hashem swore and said: “Because of you, two days of celebration will come to the Jewish people.”[23] What is the depth behind this matter, that Purim came to us in Haman’s ‘merit’?

On Pesach, we drink four cups of wine; there is a specific amount of how much we drink. But on Purim, there is no set amount to drink; the amount is ad d’lo yoda. We drink more on Purim than in any other time of the year. The purpose of drinking on Purim, as we said, is to reveal our above-consciousness. If we go over to a person when he’s completely drunk – he’s above his consciousness – and we ask him if he is grateful to Haman, he might answer “Yes”. Now, if he would say this when he’s not drunk and he’s totally conscious, then we would assume he is drunk…

So although we can reach very high levels through getting intoxicated on Purim – to reach our emunah in Hashem – still, we cannot live on this plateau during the rest of the year. If someone tries to live on this level all the time, he will become disillusioned, erroneously thinking that it is forbidden to go to work for a living. He won’t be able to lead his life properly.

The point of the above-consciousness must only be accessed at times, and one cannot live in it all the time. It is like our general avodah of rotzoh v’shov (“running and returning” in our spirituality); our inner and external worlds need to always be integrated. When we use our inner world, we have the perspective of emunah, which shows us that Hashem is running everything; and from the viewpoint of external reality, we choose how we will act and we take responsibility. We are aware of ourselves and we worry for ourselves.

We need to balance these two views – the viewpoint of our inner reality, emunah, and the viewpoint from our external reality, our various efforts, choices, and responsibilities that we have. The balance between these two viewpoints is a very subtle thing to accomplish. We have to keep balancing our lifestyle between two opposing viewpoints – our emunah, and our hishtadlus\efforts.

Understandably, it is impossible to say how exactly we balance our life with both emunah and hishtadlus. Balance requires inner understanding from our part. There are some people who take emunah to an extreme, and they don’t make enough hishtadlus. Others are too drawn after hishtadlus and they are seriously lacking in their emunah. Both of these people are imbalanced.

We all need to be balanced. There are certain times in which we need to use emunah, and there are times in which we need to focus on hishtadlus, and it also depends on each person’s unique situation.

Summary of Our Goal On Purim

To make these matters practical, we will now provide a brief summary of what said here. The purpose of Purim is to reveal clearly our consciousness, our sub-conscious, and our above-conscious. To be clearer, on Purim we can become aware of how we want to act, as well as what we really want deep down – and ultimately, of Who is leading us [the Creator].

If a person reveals these aspects in himself over Purim, besides for the joy of Chedvah that he reaches – which is external joy – he also merits to express the inner joys known as Gilah, Rinah and Ditzah.

In order to reach true Simchas Purim, it is not enough to have superficial joy. We need to reveal inner happiness in ourselves. And when we reveal our inner happiness, we will discover that the happiness was there along, inside ourselves – but we never knew about it.

If a person feels after Purim that he now knows himself better than how he did before Purim, he has truly merited the “days of celebrations, joy and festivity” that Purim is. If he did not merit this, then his Purim has gone by like any other regular day of the year.

May Hashem merit all of us to rejoice together with true and complete happiness; that our consciousness (revealed aspects of our self) subconscious (hidden aspects of our self), and above-consciousness (our inner emunah) should all be perfected. And then, all of the Jewish people will merit to rejoice, together, with a complete heart.

[1] Taanis 29a

[2] Esther 8: 15-17.

[3] Avos D’Rebbi Nosson 34

[4]Rashi Shemos 17:16

[5] Shemos 18:9

[6] Toras HaOlah

[7] Eruvin 65a

[8] Tehillim 104: 15

[9] Shir HaShirim 3:1

[10] See the author’s series Getting To Know Your Thoughts

[11] See Getting To Know Your Inner World: Chapter 5: The Intellect and the Heart.

[12] Orach Chaim 695:2

[13] Gittin 7b

[14] Tehillim 92:3

[15] Tehillim 104:15

[16] Sotah is a married woman who is convicted of having marital relations with another man; if she has been properly warned by her husband and she is found guilty by two witnesses, she is brought to the Beis HaMikdash, where she must either drink the “Bitter Waters”, or confess her crime [whereupon she must get divorced]. If she drinks the water and she had been falsely accused, she is deemed innocent, and she merits blessing and long life. If she was indeed guilty, she dies from the water, in a most horrible fashion. The Sages say that one who observes this must become a Nazirite and abstain from wine. See Tractate Sotah of Talmud Bavli.

[17] Berachos 63a

[18] For more on how one can work on this perspective of emunah, see Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, Part 3, Section VI: Emunah\Faith.

[19] Yoma 85b

[20] Megillah 7b

[21] Megillah 14a

[22] Shemos Rabbah 21

[23] Yalkut Shimeoni Esther 1054

The Month of Adar – A Time of Happiness

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.
Download a number of Drashos on Purim

The Month of Adar – A Time of Happiness

We are now in the month of Adar, with the help of Hashem. (In a leap year, we merit to have two months of Adar). It is a well-known fact which power is revealed during the month of Adar: it is the month where there is more simchah/happiness. The Sages state, “When Adar enters, we increase happiness.”[1] To be more specific, the power which describes the month of Adar is known as sechok/laughter.[2]

Let us reflect, with siyata d’shmaya, on what the roots of sadness are, so that we can learn how to remove sadness and reveal happiness in our life.

Reflecting On the Roots of Sadness

In whatever we think about, we can always discover details and roots. Either we can see the details involved in a matter, or we can see the roots of the matter. Therefore when it comes to analyzing sadness, either we can contemplate on the many different details that cause it, or we can look into the roots and see what brings one to that emotion.

Here we will try to analyze the roots that cause sadness, as opposed to studying the many ‘branches’ that can bring it on. There are several “root” causes for sadness.

Two Sources of Sadness – In the Body and In the Soul

Man is comprised of four physical elements: fire, wind, water and earth. These four elements are in all of Creation as well as in man. Earth is the heaviest of the elements. When it is left unbalanced by the other elements, the element of earth will weigh one down, which will ultimately cause one to feel sadness.

Thus, sadness can stem from the heaviness that is found in our physical body. Our body was fashioned from the earth. Man comes from dirt. When one’s element of earth is imbalanced, this heaviness can breed sadness. This is the first source for sadness: the element of earth contained in the physical body.

When one commits a sin (Heaven forbid), and certainly if one commits more than one, one’s soul becomes sad because it does not want to be in a situation of sin. When a person sins and does not immediately do teshuvah,[3] the soul becomes sad.

Solving Sadness Due To Heaviness

As we discussed in the month of Shevat, generally speaking, one should focus on eating a healthier diet. Our body becomes heavy from the “earth” within us, so we need to be careful what we put in it. When we overeat, this makes us feel heavy – heaviness causes us to be sad, since heaviness is a trait of earth, the root element for sadness. Therefore, we should become accustomed to eating foods that will not make us feel heavy.[4]

In addition, when someone is extremely drawn towards lethargy, he needs to start doing things enthusiastically. This will combat the nature of the ‘heaviness’ within him that is causing him to feel sad. He should work on this by practicing doing things energetically. For example, he could resolve upon himself that for three times a day, he will do something quickly and with enthusiasm.[5]

This is the two-part solution that resolves the sadness that comes from feeling physically lethargic and sluggish. The first part of the solution is to get used to a healthier diet. The second part of the solution is to try to do three things a day with enthusiasm. This will enable one to acquire the trait that is described in the Mishnah in Avos, “as light as an eagle”, and to avoid the lethargy and sadness that is produced from the ‘heaviness’ in the body.

Solving Sadness of our Soul

The second source for sadness that we mentioned is when sadness comes from the soul. The soul becomes sad when a person commits sins. The solution for this kind of sadness is to do earnest teshuvah from the depths of one’s heart.

Our Sages wrote that there are four main times to do teshuvah: before going to sleep at night, on Erev Shabbos, on Erev Rosh Chodesh and on Erev Yom Kippur – which is the most important time to do teshuvah. These are the “general” times to do teshuvah, but if a person lives a more inner way of life, he does teshuvah whenever he feels sadness coming from his soul, and he does so from the depths of his heart.

The teshuvah should not be done monotonously, but truthfully and earnestly, until one feels that one’s teshuvah is genuine, to the point that “The One who knows all secrets (Hashem) can testify on him that his teshuvah is truthful.”[6]

This is an internal way of living, wherein one trains oneself to react immediately when one feels an inner sadness by concentrating deeply and resolving to live as a more sincere Jew: to resolve that one will truly submit oneself to the Ribono Shel Olam.[7]

If one does teshuvah earnestly, one will find that one’s sadness will subside, either totally, or at least to a very large extent.

Identifying Your Sadness

From the two above possible reasons for feeling sad – feeling a physical heaviness of the body, or feeling sad due to a sin – one should try to identify which sadness it is as one is feeling it.

If one feels a sense of ‘heaviness’ in one’s body, if one is feeling somewhat sluggish and lethargic, then this stems from the body’s element of earth. The solution for this kind of sadness as we said is to get used to a healthier diet as well as to do things enthusiastically. But often one will feel that the reason for this sadness is deeper than just a general sense of feeling lethargic. Such sadness is not stemming from a heaviness of the body, but from a deeper source. It is coming from the depths of the neshamah/the soul, due to sins, which feel painful to the soul. When that is the case, the solution is to do earnest teshuvah.

If one reflects and has become a more internal kind of person, one will be able to keenly identify if the sadness one is feeling is coming from a heaviness of the body (the element of earth in the body), or if it’s coming from sins. And after identifying which kind of sadness it is, one should use the solutions above, accordingly.

We have so far mentioned two root causes for sadness, how they can be rectified, and how one should go about identifying them.

A Third Cause for Sadness: Lacking a Sense of Purpose in Life

Until now we have explained, with siyata d’shmaya, two kinds of sadness – asadness that comes from a feeling of ‘heaviness’ in the body, which is rooted in the body’s element of earth; and a sadness that comes from the soul, due to sins and improper actions. Now we will speak about a third kind of sadness, which is very common. This is when one is living without any sense of direction, when one doesn’t know what one wants from oneself nor what one’s purpose in life is.

Many times, when one experiences failures in the external aspects of life, or when one has time to think quietly about one’s personal situation, one will discover that one has no clear-cut direction in life. When a person is living without a sense of clear direction in his life, he is filled with all kinds of doubts about what to do and what not to do. In a broader sense, he is filled with doubt about his entire life. This is the most common example of sadness. The world is full of this kind of sadness.

We have so far given a general description of it. Now let’s explore this deeper so that we can have a clearer understanding.

There is a well-known statement, written by the Rema, who says, “There is no happiness like the clarification of doubts.” [8] These words imply that when there are no doubts, there is happiness. Thus there will be sadness whenever a person has doubts. When one is trying to make a decision but is filled with doubt, the soul becomes sad.

(A hint to this is that the Hebrew word for sadness, which is atzvus (עצבות)is from the word עצב(etzev), which is from the words ×¢×¥ ב’, which hints to the term “two options of advice (because the word ×¢×¥ is also from the wordעצה, advice) – in other words, when a person faces two conflicting paths of advice to take, he has atzvus/sadness.)

Sometimes a person is sad due to a particular doubt about something that he is going through. For example, if he isn’t sure whom to marry, if he doesn’t know which house to buy, where to live, or if he’s not sure what kind of job he needs to take. In these cases, one knows clearly the doubt that is plaguing his happiness. But in many cases, one cannot name a particular doubt which is bothering one. He is just feeling doubtful about his entire life and which direction it is taking. This makes him feel a general lack of clarity in his life. These are the kinds of doubts that fill the lives of many people resulting in the world being full of this kind of sadness.

Lack of Centeredness

If we ask any believing Jew, “What are you living for?” he will surely answer that he is living in order to fulfill the will of Hashem and to fulfill the mitzvos. However, if we would look deeper into what’s going on inside most people, we would discover that they – while certainly saying that this is what they live for, and that they know in their minds what they must do – are not directed towards any one point. Their souls are scattered over many different situations that they are involved with. When the soul is so spread out and is not aiming towards any one point in particular, this lack of direction towards anything clear, results in a deep sadness to the soul.

We see that there are many people who are working towards a goal. Sometimes they have materialistic goals, and sometimes they have spiritual goals, but in either case, they are striving towards one point. They are centered and focused on attaining a particular goal that they have which generally keeps them from falling into the pit of sadness.

Based upon this observation, we can uncover the solution for the deep sadness that fills most of the world – a sadness that stems from the lack of clarity and direction in life – by learning how to stay focused on a particular goal. The goal that we want to develop, however, will be of a spiritual nature, and not of a materialistic one. Yet, we can still learn a lesson from the materialistic goal-oriented people of the world and can use their method of success, when it comes to our own spiritual potential. With the help of Hashem, we will explain this.

Having a Spiritual Goal

There are many observant Jews who learn a profession, whether it is to become a doctor, lawyer, or whatever profession they choose. They are juggling many different aspects in their life, yet they are focused on attaining a certain goal. By going to school to study, this helps them stay centered as they aim for that goal. The mere fact that they are working towards a goal gives them a sense of happiness, whether the goal is a worthy one or not.

Just as actively striving towards a particular goal can be a means for success in the material world, so too it can work when we have a spiritual goal to strive for. There are some people who actively pursue spiritual goals from which they gain satisfaction and happiness.

For example, there are people who feel that doing chessed for others is their spiritual goal in life. They open up a gemach/an organization that helps people, and are focused solely on this one goal. Some people help by giving/loaning money, some help by offering their advice and some people help others by lending their possessions. There are many ways in which to help others. In all of these scenarios, the person is focused on a spiritual goal of chessed.

Whether the goal is materialistic or spiritual, as long as one can stay focused and concentrate on pursuing this goal, one’s soul will feel connected to something. He will be less prone to sadness, and will find it easier to be happy.

Most people are actively doing many good and wonderful things, but they are not striving for any one goal in particular. For example, if a woman is a housewife, she does many good things every day; she takes care of the house, she is constantly nourishing her husband and children with food – each of these acts involves countless achievements. In addition, a woman does many other constructive acts yet this doesn’t necessarily make her happy, even though she is doing all of these good things.

Why? It is because she doesn’t see how it all connects. She may feel very ‘spread out’ all over the place with all of these things that she does. She would be very happy if she would just consider how all of these acts really connect into one piece. If she considers chessed to be her goal, then she would derive happiness from this. But when a woman doesn’t consider all of what she does as part of a general goal that she is striving for, then in spite of all her many actual achievements, she will not be happy.

Every Jew, man and woman alike, needs to aim for a spiritual goal in their life. No matter how many countless wonderful acts a person is doing each day, one will not actually be happy from all of this unless there is a particular spiritual goal that he/she is striving for.

Each person can have a unique goal to strive for; it is not the same for everyone.
Figuring Out Your Personal Spiritual Goal in Life

In the secular values of the material world, people seek wealth, status, and nice houses to live in -that is what drives them to stay focused on their goals. But when we speak about the inner, spiritual world, the focus must be on a spiritual goal, on a certain inner point which we aim towards, as we go about our day-to-day living.

Every person will have to sit alone in a quiet place and try to figure out, as best as he can, a spiritual goal that will speak to him and which he feels is attainable. One needs to think: “What is a worthy, spiritual goal that I would want to aim for and direct my whole life towards?” The point is to be focused on utilizing one’s own potential, which lies dormant within you.

Once again, let us emphasize that there is a difference between how the secular world pursues their goals as to how a Torah Jew needs to pursue his goals. When a gentile speaks of having goals in life and on being focused and concentrated on working towards a goal, the attitude is to lay down the desire that you really want and how to get to what you want the most; how to attain that which you want badly. But when we speak of spiritual goals, the goals that a Torah Jew needs to have, which utilize the potential of our neshamah/Divine soul, the way of knowing our goals is a different process.

It is about how to actualize the potential that is within me, as opposed to getting what I want out of life. It is about figuring out which point speaks to me and is close to home, as opposed to something that my nefesh habehaimis/external, animalistic layer of the soul wants, which is expressed in the gentile world. It is a clarification about the innermost point that I currently identify with. It is that point which a Jew needs to strive for and to figure out how to realize this potential.

If one succeeds in uncovering the spiritual point that speaks to one the most at one’s current level, one is engaged in utilizing his potential, and one will succeed in removing the deep sadness of the soul, the pain of the soul where there is a lack of clarity and direction in life.

However, it is not an easy feat to figure out what the goal is – it will definitely not just take a few minutes. One needs to sit alone,quietly and delve deep so as to clearly recognize oneself, until one can see what one’s deepest spiritual ambition is. Often we will need to speak to someone else for help with this.

One will also need to daven to Hashem for help so that one should merit to discover a spiritual goal that can be aimed for. If we can cry to Hashem for this, we should do so. But even more so, we must understand that we will not get to it immediately. But at one’s own current level, one can try to figure out a spiritual goal that speaks very clearly to oneself, and to aim towards it in one’s day-to-day life.

Slowly as time goes on, one will gradually be able to uncover an even deeper spiritual goal and then direct oneself accordingly so as to actualize that goal.
The Prerequisite to Happiness

We need to understand the following point, which is a prerequisite to simchah/happiness. It is the very root of the solution and an essential point to be aware of: simchah is not just based on that which I want to attain but have not as yet attained, it is primarily based on whatever I have attained thus far.

If one is not focused on any one goal in particular, one will not be clear as to what one wants to achieve – neither will one be clear of what one has already achieved.

These two points are unclear when one does not have a goal. Upon having a goal, we first need to clarify what we wants to attain. At the same time, we must also be aware of what we have already attained. We need to always remind ourselves of this: to be clear in what we want to reach, and to be clear in what we have so far gained. That which you have already attained is actually the root of your simchah, and that which you are aiming for, which you haven’t yet achieved, is the factor that takes away sadness.

Thus, simchah is comprised of two factors: the removal of our sadness, and the revelation of happiness itself. Anything you have attained thus far is included in your aspect of “someach b’chelko”, “being happy with one’s lot” (which is the revelation of happiness). Anything which you have not as yet achieved but which you are aiming towards, takes away sadness.

Let’s review this again so that we are clear about it: there are two parts to simchah – the removal of sadness, and the revelation of happiness. When I am focused on attaining a certain goal, this removes my current sadness [because the soul will feel like it is moving forwards]; to be more specific, it removes the doubts that create sadness. And where do I derive simchah from in the present? From that which I have attained thus far; this is the “someiach b’chelko” that reveals happiness in one’s present state.

Now we can understand the following. We mentioned earlier the difference between the gentile and the Torah approaches of being goal-oriented. The way of the gentiles, which is especially the case in our current generation, focuses on what you should want out of life, and how to get it. It is about “getting what you want”. When you get it, you are happy, because that was what you wanted, you aimed for it, and you got it. That is Western mentality. By contrast, the Torah has a different approach to being goal-oriented: it is about actualizing the “I”. For we need to wonder: What is the “I” in us that wants things?

If “being happy with my lot” means that I got what I wanted, that would mean that I partially have what I want and partially I don’t. There is a rule, “He who wants a hundred, will want two hundred.” We are never completely satisfied when we attain what we want, because the next day we will want something else, and then we are back to where we started. There is no “lot” to be happy with here.

But if I tried to reach something which my “I” wanted – if it came from a very deep inner drive – then when I do attain that which I want, it is not simply that I have received what I wanted, but that it is a part of my very “I”, something that is a part of me. The resulting happiness is coming from the actualization of the “I” – the happiness that comes when one utilizes one’s potential.

We need to understand this clear, deep point. When a person wants something, and attains it either partially or completely, the happiness that results from this is just superficial; it is an incomplete happiness. The happiness will be fleeting, and sadness will soon follow.

The only genuine happiness which exists is not when I simply attain what I want, but when I reveal my “I”; when I actualize the potential of my “I”. That is simchah. For if something is not a part of me and it is only external, reaching it will not give me true and inner simchah, even if it is a wonderful thing to attain; whether it is a physical attainment, or a spiritual one. By contrast, if I achieve something that is small but it actualized my “I” in the process of getting there, then the happiness I will experience is coming from my “I”. You can only have real simchah in something that is a part of your “I.”

The meaning of someiach b’chelko/being happy with one’s lot, means that even if my “lot” is small – like when I compare myself with others and I see that others have more than me – I can still be someiach b’chelko.

How indeed can one be happy if one sees that others have achieved more? The depth of this is because simchah does not come from what I acquire. If it would come from what I acquire, then I can never be happy, because in comparison to others, I may have acquired very little. Simchah comes from actualizing the potential of my “I.” When my “I” is actualized, when I have reached something which is “me”, there is resulting simchah.

For this reason, if a person does not have true self-recognition, he will not be aware of any actualization of his potential, and will find nothing to be happy about. When he reads these words, he will not be satisfied, and he will feel, “In the end of the day, I don’t have much to be happy about. Even the things I do have in my life are minimal compared to what others have. Others have much more than I have to be happy about. So how can I be happy with what I have, when I see that everyone else has more than me both physically and spiritually…?”

When one finds it impossible to be happy with what one has, it can only be because one is out of touch with one’s “I”. One is unaware that the only thing which truly gives us happiness is when one utilizes his personal potential. If he would be aware of his “I” and he would be aware that only actualizing his potential is what provides happiness, he would have a whole different perspective towards life, and he would not need answers because he would be above this question.

When one lives superficially, one will remain with the question resulting in a lot of pain. We will not be able to be happy with what we have. But when a person comes out of superficiality and realizes that happiness does not come from acquiring things, but from actualizing the “I”, he will feel that everything he attains is a part of his “I”, and the simchah that he experiences will be a happiness in his very “I” as it is.

We are speaking about a totally different perspective of simchah here! It is not a simchah that comes from getting what you want, where you remain dissatisfied by the things you have not as yet achieved -it is a simchah that one has in one’s very “I”.

It is difficult to explain it any more than how it has been explained here, but herein lays an entirely different and deeper perspective of simchah.

Summary

In summary, we have explained three main underlying reasons for sadness.

The first source of sadness comes from our body, when we have a feeling of ‘heaviness’ that dominates us and makes us lethargic. This can be counteracted with watching what we eat, together with doing things enthusiastically each day.

A second source of sadness comes from our soul, when there are sins that we have not as yet done teshuvah for. The solution for this is to train oneself to doing teshuvah on a regular basis, from the depths of the heart. A person should awaken himself to teshuvah for every time that he feels a deep and inner sadness.

The third cause of sadness, which is the most common kind of sadness that people have, is when people do not feel fulfilled in their lives, and lack a sense of direction. The solution for this is two-fold: to realize what we have already gained so far in our life, as well as to be focused on a certain spiritual goal that speaks to us. Unfortunately, most people in the world are suffering in their souls from this kind of sadness – they feel like they are not aiming for any particular goal in life.

In Conclusion

All that we have explained here until now, understandably, is only the introduction for one to get to the complete and true simchah, which is described in the verse, שמחו צדיקים בה’ – “The righteous rejoice in Hashem.” We did not discuss this kind of simchah, but that is the desired goal of all that has been explained here.

May we merit from Hashem to feel true happiness in our life – by being happy with even the parts of ourselves that we have not as yet actualized, as well as by being happy with the parts of ourselves that we have actualized; and that all of us together should rejoice in the Creator – as it is written, “The righteous rejoice in Hashem.”

[1] Talmud Bavli Taanis 29a

[2] Sefer Yetzirah 5:5 [see Rosh Chodesh Avodah_013_The Power of Laughter, for how to use the power of sechok/laughter in the month of Adar].

[3] repentance

[4] This was discussed in the shiur of Rosh Chodesh Avodah_011_Elevated Eating; see also Fixing Your Earth_010_Countering Laziness

[5] Editor’s Note: It is said about Reb Yeruchem Levovitz zt”l that he would practice doing things against his will 5 times a day, in order to counter the nature of laziness (and another note, the Rav explained this in terms of getting used to bittul haratzon (nullifying one’s will). Perhaps the reason for the Rav’s recommendation of doing this 3 times a day, as opposed to 5 times a day as Reb Yeruchem did, is so that even simpler people (like us), who are not on the level of Reb Yeruchem Levovitz, can also practice it.

[6] A quote from the Ramban

[7] Master of the world

[8] Toras HaOlah

Do Not Accept a False Report

לֹ֥א תִשָּׂ֖א שֵׁ֣מַע שָׁ֑וְא
Do not accept a false report. Shemos 23:1

There is considerable discussion about the definition of the word שָׁ֑וְא which we have translated above as “false”. Many meforshim, primary among them Rashi and Onkelos, do translate שָׁ֑וְא as meaning false. Rabbeinu Yonah uses a modifier which would translate to something like “possibly false”. Others, such as the Yad Hekatana and Rav Wolbe, translate it to mean something closer to despised, meaning “a despised report”. The Chofetz Chaim worries that even if the thing actually happened, it is likely that some details will be added, left out or emphasized to the extent that the report becomes distorted and therefore false. The Chelkas Binyomin, one of the more prominent current commentators on the Sefer Chofetz Chaim, explains that even if the thing actually happened, when someone accepts the report as true, the person being spoken about is inevitably unfairly reduced in the mind of the lister and judged in a way that is false. The halacha brought down by the Rambam and relied upon by the Chofetz Chaim is that accepting lashon hora is prohibited, whether or not it is true.

The gemara in Pesachim (118a) relates the end of the previous pasuk, לַכֶּ֖לֶב תַּשְׁלִכ֥וּן אֹתֽוֹ it should be thrown to the dogs, to our pasuk warning us not to accept a false report: וְאָמַר רַב שֵׁשֶׁת מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה: כׇּל הַמְסַפֵּר לָשׁוֹן הָרָע, וְכׇל הַמְקַבֵּל לָשׁוֹן הָרָע, וְכׇל הַמֵּעִיד עֵדוּת שֶׁקֶר בַּחֲבֵירוֹ — רָאוּי לְהַשְׁלִיכוֹ לִכְלָבִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״לַכֶּלֶב תַּשְׁלִיכוּן אוֹתוֹ״, וּכְתִיב בָּתְרֵיהּ: ״לֹא תִשָּׂא שֵׁמַע שָׁוְא״, And Rav Sheishes said in the name of Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya: Anyone who speaks lashon hora, anyone who accepts lashon hora as truth, and anyone who testifies falsely about another is fit to be thrown to the dogs, as it is stated “ you shall cast it to the dogs” and afterwards it is written: “You shall not accept a false report”.

Regardless of any particular understanding of שָׁ֑וְא, the Midrash Rabbah has an insightful explanation of how the pesukim of a false report and being thrown to the dogs are related. The Midrash explains: מַה הַכְּלָבִים אֶחָד נוֹבֵחַ וְכֻלָּם מִתְקַבְּצִים וְנוֹבְחִים עַל חִנָּם, אֲבָל אַתֶּם לֹא תִהְיוּ כֵן, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁאַתֶּם אַנְשֵׁי קֹדֶשׁ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְאַנְשֵׁי קֹדֶשׁ תִּהְיוּן לִי. When it comes to dogs, one of them barks and then all of them come together and bark for absolutely no reason. But you (Bnei Yisrael) don’t do this because you are a holy people, as it is written: a holy people you shall be to me. The Yefei Toar expands upon this saying that the first dog might have had some reason for barking but the other dogs are barking for absolutely no reason. A person might have some rationalized reason for speaking improperly, perhaps they are in a fight with the person they are speaking about and are angry. That doesn’t excuse the aveira but at least we can figure out its source. But if others who have no “dog in the fight” repeat it, they are as senseless as the pack of dogs barking for no reason. The Midrash tells us that we are a holy nation and, therefore, we should not do this. Perhaps the end of the Midrash is giving us the solution to how to avoid falling into this trap of senselessly accepting and spreading information– remember that you, and every other member of Bnei Yisrael is holy.

The Takeaway

The prohibition of accepting/spreading a false report has several interpretations and the halacha is that we are prohibited from believing and repeating lashon hora even if it is true. Someone who accepts lashon hora as truth and/or spreads it, overlooks his own inherent kedushah, the kedushah of his fellow Jews, and is akin to acting like a mindless animal.

This Week
Focus on the concept that according to most opinions someone who believes lashon hora is punished more severely than the person who initially spoke it. If we resolve to not believe and not repeat lashon hora, then those who do speak lashon hora will be unsuccessful in the goal to disparage and damage others.

Shmirah Ba’Shavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each Parsha.
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Yisro and the Aseres HaDibros in a Nutshell

Here’s Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Yisro. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash here.

Yitro
# 18 Yitro Converts – Advice: 10-50-100-1000.
# 19 Preparations for Divine Revelation
# 20 The Ten Commandments

# 18 Yitro Converts – Advice: 10-50-100-1000.
* Yitro arrives at Jewish Camp in desert with Tsiporah, Gershom & Eliezer
* Yitro blesses HaShem when he hears the details of the Exodus
* Yitro eats with Moshe in HaShem’s Presence
* Yitro sees Moshe’s method of adjudicating justice
* Yitro’s advice, delegate judges of 10, 50, 100, 1000
* Yitro returns to Midian

# 19 Preparations for Divine Revelation
* Moshe ascends Mt. Sinai
* You saw how I carried you on eagles wings out of Egypt
* Be to Me a Treasured Nation, a Priestly Kingdom & Unique People
* We declared “We will do!”
* Hashem reveals that the purpose of Divine Revelation is so that the Nation will hear and witness G-d speaking to Moses directly.
* Purify yourselves for the third day, wash clothes, immerse in Mikveh, no contact with wives.
* Loud sounds, thunder, heavy cloud, sound of the Shofar, everyone trembled, we stood ‘beneath’ the mountain, HaShem came down in a fire, entire Mountain trembled, Shofar continued blasting louder while HaShem spoke to Moshe directly in the presence of the entire nation
* HaShem instructs Moshe to warn Kohanim not to ascend the Mt.

# 20 The Ten Commandments (14 Mitzvot)
* “I Am The Master, Your Power Who took you out of Egypt.”
* Have no other gods beside Me.
* Don’t say My Name in vain.
* Practice Shabbat.
* Honor both parents.
* Don’t Kill.
* Don’t adulterate.
* Don’t kidnap.
* Don’t bear false witness.
* Don’t envy.
* We all ‘saw’ the sounds, flames, blast of the Shofar and Mountain smoking.
* We requested Moshe speak directly with us and not The All Powerful G-d
* Moshe ascended to the Arafel where HaShem was revealed
* See ! I spoke to you directly from Heaven
* Don’t make images of Me, gods of silver or gold.
* Make for Me an Altar where you will bring all your offerings
* Wherever I let you mention My Name, I will come down and bless you
* Don’t allow any metal to touch the stone Altar.
* Don’t ascend My Altar by way of steps for modesty sake.

Hishtadlus and Parshas HaMon

We are taught that although Hashem runs the world we have to do our Hishtadlus (our own efforts). What that is in any situation differs for each person and is dependent on a person’s bitachon (trust) and his or her personality type. It’s hard to get the hishtadlus factor exactly right, no too much and not too little. The key for us believing Jews is to remember that even after our hishtadlus, everything is in Hashem’s hands. This is something we have to continually work on to internalize.

The halachic works suggest that we read Parshas Hamon everyday to internalize this message. (Tur 1; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 1:5; Aruch Hashulchan 1:22; Shulchan Aruch HaRav 1:9). The Mishna Berurah says “And the parsha of the Manna is such that he will believe that all his livelihood comes through special Divine direction (hashgacha pratis)”.

From my observations, most people are lucky to get through all the davening, let alone recite extras, like Parshas HaMon. However, it just so happens that Rebbe Mendel of Riminov said that saying Parshas HaMon on Tuesday of Parshas B’Shalach is a Segulah for Parnossa. And guest what – this Tuesday is that Tuesday.

Here’s a link to the Art Scroll Interlinear translation of Parshas Hamon.

The Most Famous Ramban in Chumash – The End of Parshas Bo

The Ramban at the end of Bo is a classic work on Jewish philosophy and probably the most quoted Ramban in Chumash. It’s well worth seeing inside. Here’s a summary:

Reason for the Plagues

The Ramban says that from the time of Enosh there were three types of heretics: 1) Those that didn’t believe in G-d at all; 2) Those that believed in a G-d, but didn’t believe He knew what was happening in the world; 3) Those that believed in G-d’s knowledge, but didn’t believe that He oversees the world or that there is reward and punishments.

By favoring the Jews and altering nature through the plagues, the falsity of the heretical views became clear to all. The supernatural wonders indicate the world has a G-d who created it, knows all, oversees all and is all powerful. And when that wonder is publicly declared beforehand through a prophet, the truth of prophecy is made clear as well, namely that G-d will speak to a person and reveal His secrets to His servants, the prophets, and with acknowledgement of this principle the entire Torah is sustained. (The Ramban brings down a number of pesukim supporting this.)

Reason for so many Mitzvos regarding the Exodus

Now, because G-d does not perform a sign or wonder in every generation in sight of every evil person and disbeliever, He commanded that we should have constant reminders and signs of what we saw in Egypt and we should transmit it to our children thoughout the generations. G-d was stringent in this matter as we see from the strict penalties regarding eating Chometz on Pesach and neglecting the Pesach offering. Other mitzvos regarding the Exodus are tefillin, mezuzos, remembering the Exodus in the morning and evening, Succos.

There are also many other commandments that serve as a reminder of the Exodus (Shabbos, the festivals, redemption of the firstborn,…). And all these commandments serve as a testimony for us through the generations regarding the wonders performed in Egypt, that they not be forgotten and there will be no argument for a heretic to deny faith in G-d.

The Reason behind Mitzvos in General

When one does a simple mitzvah like mezuzah and thinks about its importance, he has already acknowledged G-d’s creation of the world, G-d’s knowledge and supervision of the world’s affairs, the truth of prophecy and all the foundations of Torah. In addition he has acknowledged G-d’s kindness towards those that perform His will, for He took us from bondage to freedom in great honor in the merit of our forefathers.

That is why Chazal say, be careful in performing a minor commandment as a major one, for all of them are major and beloved since through them a person is constantly acknowledging his G-d. For the objective of all the commandments is that we should believe in G-d and acknowledge to Him that He created us.

Purpose of Creation

In fact this is the purpose of creation itself, for we have no other explanation of creation. And G-d has no desire, except that man should know and acknowledge the G-d that created him. And the purpose of raising our voices in prayer and the purpose of Shuls and the merit of communal prayer is that people should have a place where they can gather and acknowledge that G-d created them and caused them to be and they can publicize this and declare before Him, “We are your creations”.

This is what the sages meant when they explained “And they shall call out mightily to G-d” as from here you learn that prayer requires a loud voice for boldness can overcome evil.

Everything is a Sign of Hashem

Through recalling the great revealed signs of Hashem of the Exodus, a person acknowledges the hidden signs of everyday life which are the foundation of the entire Torah. For a person has no share in the Torah of Moshe unless he believes that all our affairs and experiences are signs from Hashem, that there is no independent force of nature regarding either the community or the individual.

Reward and Punishment

Rather if one observes the commandments his reward will bring him success and if he transgresses them his punishment will destroy him. Hidden signs of Hashem can be more clearly recognized as regards the affairs of a community as in the predictions in the Torah in the matter of the blessings and the curses as it says – And the nations will say, “For what reason did Hashem do so to this land…?” And they will say, “Because they forsook the covenant of Hashem, the G-d of their forefathers”. This matter will become known to the nations, that this is from G-d as their (the Jews) punishment. And it is stated regarding the fulfillment of the commandments, “Then all the people of the earth will see that the Name of Hashem is proclaimed over you, and they will revere you.”

First published in January, 2008. Last 2 paragraphs updated January 2012

Do the Details Really Matter?

People often ask me, “what mitzvah was the hardest one to take on? Was it covering your hair, or eating kosher, or the laws of mikvah?” I reply: “None of the above. It was the attitude change I had to make, which I still struggle with to this day, even after over a decade of observance.”

“Does G-d really care about this detail?” This is the question that haunts me. Why would the creator of the Universe care about whether I wait 3, 4, or 6 hours after eating meat before I enjoy an ice cream cone? Why does the Almighty concern Himself with which bird is sacrificed for which sin, and the actual materials that go into the building of the mishkan? If I listen to music today, or my husband and son get a haircut, and it’s not Lag B’Omer yet, this matters to Hashem? The same creator who gave us oceans, and mountains, and oxygen? Details, details, details, the Torah is filled with millions of them, and my former allegiance to being Reform crops up time and again. I make Judaism a me-centered religion every time I ask this question: “Why can’t I just do it my way instead?”

It’s been sinking in slowly over the last ten years: to become observant means that I believe that G-d does care about these details, and even when I question a certain detail, I ACT as if G-d cares, because I now believe that if it’s in the Torah, and if it’s been passed along by the oral tradition for thousands of years, then G-d really does pay attention to what I put in my mouth, or on my head, or in my heart. I can’t fathom it, but that’s my limitation.

Yesterday I made a silly faux pas in the kitchen, and it led me to think about this question metaphorically.

I was making brownies from scratch for Shabbos — Ultra rich godiva chocolate fudge brownies. Even though I published a kosher cookbook for those concerned about eating kosher food with less fat, calories and carbs, this recipe was NOT in that book! Nothing dietetic about them. I placed them into the oven to bake and started to clean the kitchen. One finger swipe of the chocolate ganache pan told me these brownies were going to be worth the calories. Then I took another finger swipe from the batter bowl — and gagged. It was one of the worst tastes I could ever describe. What went wrong?

It didn’t take long to figure out that I had mixed up the two jars in my kitchen — one that read salt, and one that read sugar. Long ago I poured sugar and salt into glass jars that sit on my kitchen counter to make it easier to bake without shlepping the sugar or salt out of my pantry. Do you know what brownies taste like when you put 1 1/4 cups of salt into the batter instead of 1 1/4 cups of sugar?

Pretty darn awful.

I had to throw away the whole pan, and as I was cleaning up the mess, I got to thinking. I learned my lesson — my salt and sugar will now be put in dissimilar looking jars. I’ll only make this mistake once. But more than that:

What if G-d has a very precise recipe for how the world is supposed to operate, and how I, as a Jew, am supposed to live my life? Maybe the sugar and the salt look a lot a like, but substituting one for the other results in one lousy tasting brownie.

To be observant means that when I’m tempted to substitute my own ways for Hashem’s, I can remember the taste of that brownie gone wrong in my mouth.

Torah is the recipe I am to follow. Lucky for me, there’s more sugar in it than salt.

Originally published May, 2007

Parshas Vayechi – Of Arrows and Feathers

וַיְמָֽרֲרֻ֖הוּ וָרֹ֑בּוּ וַיִּשְׂטְמֻ֖הוּ בַּֽעֲלֵ֥י חִצִּֽים
And they piled hatred upon him (Yosef) and archers hated him. Bereishis 49:23

The Midrash explains this cryptic reference to archers in the bracha of Yosef.
וַיִּשְׂטְמֻהוּ בַּעֲלֵי חִצִּים, אֵלּוּ בַּעֲלֵי מְחִצָּתוֹ שֶׁהִשְׁלִיכוּ עָלָיו דְּבָרִים קָשִׁים ×›Ö¼Ö°×—Öµ×¥,… וּמָה רָאָה לְמָשְׁלָן בְּחֵץ מִכָּל כְּלֵי זַיִן, אֶלָּא כָּל כְּלֵי זַיִן מַכִּין בִּמְקוֹמָם וְזֶה מַכֶּה מֵרָחוֹק, כָּךְ הוּא לָשׁוֹן הָרָע דְּאָמוּר בְּרוֹמִי וְקָטֵיל בְּסוּרְיָא

“And archers hated him” these are the associates (of Yosef) who cast at him words as harsh as arrows… and why is it fitting to compare (lashon hora) to arrows as opposed to all other weapons? Because all other weapons strike in the place where they are and this (an arrow) strikes further away. So too lashon hora that is spoken in Rome can kill someone in Syria.

The Shaarei Teshuvah expands upon the analogy of lashon hora to arrows. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that one who shoots an arrow will often not know who it is that he ends up striking since they may be very far away. So too with lashon hora, when someone speaks about another person, he may be damaging not just that person but his business associates, his family members and even future generations. Rabbein Yonah also distinguishes an arrow from a sword by saying that if someone draws his sword on someone else and the potential victim pleads for mercy, he can return his sword to its holding place and there will be no damage. This is not the case with an arrow, once it is sent forth, it cannot be retrieved. So too with lashon hora, once the word escapes from our mouths, it is impossible to withdraw it.

One opinion in the Midrash that we quoted is that Yosef’s “adversaries” were his brothers. As pointed out last week, the brothers spoke about Yosef and plotted to harm him when Yosef was מֵרָחֹ֑ק far away. We see from here how their use of improper language was able to do significant harm even from a distance.

The Chofetz Chaim points out that it is often very difficult to do proper and full teshuvah for lashon hora in a case where someone does not know how far flung his words have become. According to some opinions, it is actually impossible to do teshuva for this since it would be impossible to determine who has actually heard them and, moreover, the words may continue to do future harm even to those who are not yet born. We should not look at this as a depressing statement regarding our past speech. Instead, we should look at it as an opportunity to comprehend the far reaching and devastating consequences of lashon hora so that we will be more careful with our current and future speech.

The Takeaway
Lashon hora is compared to an arrow because arrows can do harm in places far from where they are shot. Additionally, once an arrow is shot, it is impossible to retrieve it and avoid the damaging circumstances.

This Week
Analogies, moshelim and comparisons are powerful learning tools. Think about how the analogy of an arrow to lashon hora provides deep insight into the detrimental nature of lashon hora. Remember the famous story about the person who went to his Rebbe to ask him how to do teshuva for his lashon hora. His rebbe told him to empty a pillow full of feathers into the wind. Confused but willing to listen to his Rebbe, the person did so and returned to his Rebbe. His Rebbe then told him to go retrieve each and every feather. The lesson is that it is just as difficult to do teshuva for broad ranging lashon hora as it is to track down and collect feathers that have been scattered to the wind. Create your own analogy or moshel that illustrates the far reaching effects of lashon hora and share it with your friends and family.

Shmirah Ba’Shavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each Parsha.
For sefer sponsorships or to sponsor the Parsha Sheet, please contact David Linn connectwithwords365@gmail.com.

The Tenth of Teves – A Fast for Torah

An excerpt From Torah.org:

The Rambam writes that the wise and the prophets should desire the arrival of Moshiach not because the stature of the Jews will have changed for the better, nor because they can then rejoice, but rather because they will be free to study the Torah without distraction.

Exile is a time when we are all burdened with worries and afflicted by persecutions. Exile is not conducive to Torah study. With the start of the siege of Jerusalem, our exile effectively began. The splendor of the Torah began to dim. For the first time in our history, we were not in the optimal setting for Torah study. We were in a decline.

With the death of Ezra years later, the distance from the proper method of Torah study increased. With the translation of the Torah into Greek, we fell to a new low: not only were we in exile, but we were faced with the new challenge a translation presented.

The three events that the Fast of the Tenth of Teves commemorate (siege of Jerusalem, death of Ezra, translation of Torah) share an unfortunate common denominator: a decline in diligent Torah study. This decline started with the siege of Jerusalem and remains with us until this very day.

It is very clear what pain we are still suffering from that stems from the events of the Tenth of Teves. We should all feel this pain. We should all realize what a great loss we have been afflicted with.

Most importantly, we should implement the words of the Rambam by reminding ourselves of these matters, so that we repent and improve our conduct.

Der Meistersingers of Athens – What’s Up with the Tune for Maoz Tzur?

Maybe it’s because I grew up listening to Xmas carols. Maybe it’s because what passes for Jewish music these days is frequently Jewish words grafted onto pop or rock instrumentals. Or maybe it’s because the perpetually waning enthusiasm I see in our young people today might be stemmed if we helped them tap into their neshomas rather than strengthening their connection with secular culture.

I suppose it’s really all three and more. But the bottom line is this: the one thing I despise about Chanukah is the pervasive, annoying, and distinctly un-Jewish niggun the whole world sings to Maoz Tzur – evoking not the heroism of the Hasmoneans but the flaky ambivalence of “Rock of Ages” and the red-suited jolliness of “Good King Wenceslas.”

It should come as no surprise that our popular Maoz Tzur sounds so goyish. It’s been traced back to an old German drinking song, and before that to the 16th Century hymns of the Benedictine Monks. I guess it fits right in with the inescapable practice of gift-giving, also borrowed from Christian society.

I know there are those who don’t object to borrowing Gentile melodies for our niggunim. But why can’t we borrow something that’s worth borrowing? Why do we have to embrace a tune that sounds like it should be accompanied by fat carolers sporting white cotton beards? And if we have to sing it, why can’t we limit it to Maoz Tzur and not repeat it endlessly in Lecha Dodi, Birkas HaChodesh, Shabbos morning kedusha, and twice in Hallel?

Above all, why doesn’t it bother us that on this of all holidays, the season when we celebrate the integrity of Jewish culture, we define our celebration by embracing the culture of Eisav, the culture that continues to dominate us in our final exile and which stands between us and the coming of Moshiach?

What’s that? You don’t know any other niggun? Call me, and I’ll hum a few for your over the phone.

Check out Rabbi Goldson’s latest articles at yonasongoldson.com.

Originally Published December 2008

Experiencing Chanukah

Rav Itamar Schwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Drashos on Chanukah

The Light of Chanukah: Spiritual Or Physical?

Let us learn here about Chanukah in a way that is not just about something that we go through, but as something that really can affect us, experientially.

All of the festivals contain ohr, spiritual light, but Chanukah in particular is the epitome of ohr. In the other festivals, the light is purely spiritual, but on Chanukah, although the light is also spiritual, it manifests also as a physical light that we empower, through the eight lights that we light on Chanukah.

The lights of Chanukah seem to be lit through a wick and oil, but the inner way to understand it is that the light revealed during Chanukah is what is lighting the wick. The wicks, the oil and the flame that we see are [merely] the physical ‘garments’ that clothe the spiritual light that is Chanukah. Of course, it looks like we are lighting it. But it is really the light [revealed during] Chanukah which is shining through the physical wick.

This is the depth behind the halachah that it is forbidden to benefit from the light of Chanukah: we may not use spirituality for This World. When we light [the menorah], a spiritual light emerges [from the hidden realm of spiritual light]. Our physical eyes just see a candle, but our soul sees spiritual light in it.

Although our soul sees spirituality in things, one needs to have a revelation of his soul in order for the soul to see spirituality. With our physical eyes, all we see are just candles burning; therefore we need to actually connect our soul to the spirituality of the hidden light that is revealed on Chanukah.

Seeing The Lights From Our Soul

The neshamah (Jewish soul) is described in the verse, “נר ×”’ נשמת אדם”, “The flame of Hashem is the soul of man”. A ner (flame) is composed of a kli (vessel, or container)), oil, and the fire. Our neshamah is called “ner” (flame),and it is also called “ohr” (light), whereas the “kli” (the vessel or container) that holds the neshamah is our physical guf (the body).

The neshamah is called “ner” (flame). Our physical body is created from earth, whereas the soul in us comes from the “breath of Hashem” that was breathed into man by Hashem. Hashem is entirely ohr, so to speak. The earth which our body comes from is a dark material, thus our body is of a “dark” substance, whereas our soul is taken from “light”. Since man is a combined existence of body and soul, his existence is essentially a mixture of light and darkness.

Every person is essentially a light contained within darkness. There is a statement, “A little light can push away much darkness.”[1] We see from the physical world that a small light can light up a dark room, and so too, when our soul is concealed from our access, we will feel like we are groping in the dark. When our soul becomes revealed to us, however, there is a great light we experience, which sends away the “darkness” that is the body.

Thus, when a person hasn’t yet revealed his soul, he lives in darkness. He will experience life through a dark lens. When a person begins to merit a revelation of his soul, his soul begins to shine, and he experiences a degree of spiritual light.

These are the two kinds of lenses through which we experience life: either we see through a dark lens, or we see life through a lens of light.

In deeper terms, there is ayin ra, a “bad eye”, and ayin tov, a “good eye.” The perspective of “ayin ra” comes from the view of the body, and the perspective of “ayin tov” is the view from the soul.

They are different lenses in a person. It is not simply that there are different personalities of either “ayin ra” or “ayin tov” that some people have positive personalities and some people have negative personalities. Rather, “ayin tov” and “ayin ra” are perspectives of how we experience life – either we are viewing life from the prism of the body, or the soul. “Ayin ra” represents the body’s viewpoint, a view from “darkness”, which is a perspective that is darkened by materialism of This World. Thus it does not offer a clear view on life. In contrast, “ayin tov” is a view of “light”, which is pleasant and calming.

These are root concepts of the soul. The world we are in is a mix of light and darkness, a mix of good and evil. And it is mostly dark. What is the world looking like right now? What is it calling out? It is calling out darkness. The world is conveying to us a message of unhappiness, pain, and difficulty – a life of darkness. It is not a place that is mostly good, pure, holy and happy.

A person sees from the place in himself that he is at now. Therefore, if he has a dark lens on life, if he is living a materialistic kind of life where his body dominates and his soul is unrevealed in his life, then he will see a dark life in front of him. If you view life through dirty glasses, everything will look dirty, even if you are looking at something clean. For this reason, when a person sees others, he usually doesn’t see people as souls whom he can have a connection to. He usually just sees the thick materialism of others, he relates to their superficial shell, and as such, he relates to others as physical bodies, and he does not see them as souls in front of him.

But when a person reveals his soul, he will see others through a clear lens. Then he will see the joy, purity, and cleanliness in front of him. This does not mean that he will be naïve and that he’s not aware of reality. He is well aware of reality on this world, but he has gained a view of others that is pristine, clear, and clean.

For example, when he speaks with others, like when asking someone for directions, he will understand that he is speaking with a soul, and not with a body. When he asks questions to others, he is aware that he is asking it from his soul. And when a person speaks from his soul, the soul of the other picks up on it, because the soul is receptive to the sound of another soul. Where you speak from is what the other person will hear; if you speak from your body, the other person hears your gruff body talking, and when you speak from your soul, the other’s soul hears words coming from your soul.

The world today doesn’t have that much speech coming from the soul. When a person meets another and greets him, does he really mean it that the other should have a good day? “Good morning” has become more like a mannerism. Contrast this with what was said about the Alter of Slobodka, who would practice saying “Good Morning” to himself, because he held that it was giving a beracha (blessing) to others.

This is different view on life – totally.

Speaking and Acting From Within Yourself

When a person is talking, where is he speaking from in himself? A person can talk either from the most external part of himself, or from the most innermost part of himself that he identifies with.

Most natural speech flows from the external part of the soul. The more inner a person’s speech is, the more it reflects the statement “words from the heart enter the heart.” This should not just be limited to when a person is conveying a deep emotion such as “I love you”, or “I feel your pain”. It is referring to how a person speaks all the time. All of the time, we really need to speak from our innermost place that we currently identify with.

Most people live from their body and speak from their body, and the person hearing him hears the words from his body. But when a person speaks from his soul, it can go into another’s soul, and the other person will hear it from his soul, because his soul will pick up on it.

Chanukah is a time of “light”, but it is not just a time to light. The light of Chanukah specifically reminds us that the physical is a container for the spiritual – that our body contains a soul. The other festivals are also a spiritual light, but they don’t take on physical form. The light of Chanukah takes on a physical form, showing us that spirituality can be clothed by physicality.

These are not mere intellectual definitions, but a practical view of life to have every day of your life. We do many actions throughout the day. A person washes his hands, for example. How does he do it? We understand that this is allowed through the brain, which sends messages to the body and enables it to function. But when a person tells “Good Morning” to his children, does he do so with at least a little bit of feeling, at least a little more than when he washes his hands? Certainly, he puts some feeling into it. But how many times a day, or a week, or a month, or a year, though do we act from an inner place in ourselves? Are we speaking from a deeper place in ourselves on a more regular basis?

Most people do not access the depth that is contained in themselves. A person who is living inwardly is someone who lives with his depth, all the time, on a regular basis. He lives always with the deepest place in himself. Just like we all use the sink many times a day, a person who lives life in an inner way is using the deepest place he knows of in himself – all the time.

A person usually accesses his inner depth only when there are extreme emotions, of either intense joy or grief. A person usually cannot take that depth that he has reached and bring it more into his daily life. He may remember the pain he felt from his sadness or the joy that he felt when he rejoiced, but he will not remember the depth of the emotions that he reached.

The depth that we do recognize in ourselves, though – how much are we in touch with it on a daily basis?

Recognition of Ourselves

We must recognize who we are. Of course, the purpose of everything is to recognize Hashem. But if we do not recognize ourselves, we can’t recognize Hashem. Skipping self-recognition prevents recognition of Hashem. From recognizing ourselves, we can come to recognize Hashem[2].

Surely, the deepest thing possible is to connect to Hashem, but before we get to that stage, one has to know himself well and identify the deepest place in himself.

How can it be that a person is not in touch with the deepest part of himself? We can memorize many phone numbers. How can it be that we don’t recognize our own self?

If we really want to live a true life, we need to know what our deepest point is in ourselves, which can take a long time to know. After that, one needs to ask himself if his depth has deepened from before. The way we identify ourselves has to mature as the years go on.

We can say in general how deep the soul is, but you on your own need to uncover the depth of your own soul, and then you need to know how to live with it all the time. At least once a day, make sure that you are using it. That is what Chanukah is all about.

The Deepest Point In Yourself

I will try here to explain what the deepest point of the soul is, but it will be hard to understand it, both intellectually as well as emotionally, because each person is at a different point.

The deepest part of the soul, the deepest experience your soul can know of is to experience your very existence (havayah). (There is really a higher experience, which is to experience the reality of the Creator, which is reached through emunah and d’veykus with Hashem. That is an experience above the “I”, however. Here we are describing the experience that is within the “I”.)

One’s very existence is his deepest experience. It is not the will of a person, it is not aspiration, it is not giving, it is not enduring suffering, and it is not joy. Those are all deep experiences, but the deepest experience is to experience one’s existence.

A person needs to be able to remove all the external layers covering the soul, and then he can experience himself. It is not a place of any desires, because it is above all desires.

When a person purifies himself through doing the mitzvos, through attaining a state of purity, and through correcting his middos, then he calms the soul.[3] He can then experience the soul. When he experiences his own soul, he can feel his existence then and be able to live it on a daily basis.

All day, people are running around, and this causes people not to be in touch with the soul. This refers to internal running as well, in which people are running all the time with their desires. They are not calm inside, and they never reach their soul. Therefore, people wonder what the deepest experience is. But the deepest experience is: to experience your own self!

You can’t live from your depth if you haven’t accessed it yet. When you do access it, you need to then live with it all the time – sensibly, of course. This will reveal more and more depth to you as time goes on. In order to get to your own depth, you first need to live daily with the deepest point in yourself – you can think about it and can feel it throughout the day.

These are not ideas or opinions – it is about life. May we merit from Hashem to know our souls and to realize our depths, our existence, and from there, to reach d’veykus with Hashem.

[1] Chovos HaLevovos: Shaar Yichud HaMaaseh: 5

[2] Raavad (Rabbi Avraham ben David, 10th century scholar); based on the verse, “From my flesh, I see G-d.”

[3] See the series of Getting To Know Your Hisboddedus

Experiencing Chanukah – Rav Itamar Schwartz (Bilvavi)

Forbidden Kiruv

Why didn’t Yaakov simply pass Esav by instead of engaging him?
Why did Yaakov send Angels to his brothers rather than humans?

Yaakov sent representatives ahead of him to his brother, Esav, to Edom’s Field toward the land of Seir.

— Bereishis 32:4

The representatives returned to Yaakov and told him: “We came to your brother, Esav, and he’s also heading toward you. He has [a force of] 400 men with him.”

—Ibid:7

One who grows angry while passing by a quarrel that does not concern him is akin to one who seizes a [sleeping] dog by the ears.

— Mishlei 26:17

Let sleeping dogs lie

— Popular idiom version of passuk in Mishlei

Our Sages (Bereishis Rabbah 75:2) criticized Yaakov for this [sending representatives and gifts to Easv] comparing it to waking a sleeping dog by yanking its ears: The Holy Blessed One said to Yaakov “he [Esav] was going his own way [not considering any hostilities to Yaakov] and you had to send him representatives and remind him [of the old dormant enmity] ‘to my lord Esav. Your humble slave Yaakov says … ’”?

— Ramban Bereishis 32:4

Yaakov remained alone. A man wrestled with him kicking up dust until the darkness lifted

— Bereishis 32:25

… Our Rabbis explained (Bereishis Rabbah 77:3, 78:3) that the wrestling man was the prince (guardian angel) of Esav.

— Rashi Ibid

… Rivkah became pregnant. But the offspring clashed/ scurried inside of her …

— Bereishis 25:21,22

Our Rabbis (Bereishis Rabbah 63:6) interpreted it [the word וַיִתְרוֹצִצו] as an expression of running/ scurrying (רוֹצָה) . When she passed by the entrances of [the] Torah [academies] of Shem and Ever, Yaakov would scurry and struggle to come out; when she passed the entrance of [a temple of] idolatry, Esav would scurry and struggle to come out. 

— Rashi Ibid

Question: Isn’t it true that the yetzer hara-the inclination to evil; is not operative in-utero and that it is not within man until man is born … [if so why was Esav drawn to evil before he was even born]? The answer is that while it’s true that man has no yen and desire for evil, as part of his free-will equation, until after he is born; what Esav was doing here [when scurrying towards the temples of idolatry] was qualitatively different.  Esav was not yielding to the seductions of his yetzer hara, instead he was magnetically drawn towards his source, nature and species, as it were. For all things are aroused by, and inexorably drawn towards, the source of their intrinsic nature and self-definition.

— Gur Aryeh- supercommentary of the Maharal to Rashi Ibid

It is indeed odd that Yaakov would have awakened the sleeping dog/ giant. At first glance, what could possibly have motivated him to do so is incomprehensible.

According to one approach of the Midrashic sages the representatives that Yaakov dispatched to Esav were heavenly angels. Many commentaries have addressed Yaakov’s “need” for angels. Rav Shmuel Dov Asher-the Biskovitzer Rebbe, maintains that Yaakov was on what, in the contemporary parlance, might be called a mission of kiruv rechokim-bringing those distant from righteousness/ G-d closer.  Yaakov was unwilling to stand idly by as his twin brother degenerated deeper and deeper into the hellish depths of evil. He had hoped that the angels would prove equal to the task of discovering and nurturing Esav’s deeply buried goodness until it overwhelmed all his accretions of evil and washed them away in a cleansing wave of teshuvah-repentance.  After all, the passuk teaches us that angels are uniquely endowed with the capacity of advocating for deeply flawed individuals who possess as little as one tenth of one percent of decency and goodness: “If one has even a single angel out of a thousand advocating on his behalf by declaring his uprightness, then G-d will be gracious to him and say ‘redeem him from descending into destruction [i.e. the grave] for I havefound atonement/ ransom for him.’” (Iyov 33:23,24)

His interpretation is supported by a fuller, closer reading of the Midrash of “awakening the sleeping, vicious dog.” After citing the passuk in Mishlei the Midrash continues: Shmuel the son of Nachman  said “this is comparable to a traveler who awakened the leader of a gang of thieves sleeping at the crossroads and warned him of the imminent dangers [from wild animals]. Instead of thanking the traveler, the gang leader began beating his benefactor. The traveler cried foul ‘you cursed man [is this how you repay me for trying to save your life?]’ The gang leader then said ‘[you deserve it, it’s your own fault] I was slumbering comfortably and you woke me!’”

In this allegory Yaakov is represented by the traveler while Esav’s role is played by the gang leader. Nowhere in this allegory do we find a frightened Yaakov devising strategies and tactics to save himself and/or his family.  On the contrary, Yaakov is a selfless do-gooder trying to save the life and limbs of someone else, fast asleep and unaware of the looming, lurking dangers.  Yakkov’s good deed did not go unpunished and not only is he forced to struggle with the malicious ingrate Esav but, later, he was forced to contend with his evil guardian angel as well.

While it’s often said that “the path to hell is paved with good intentions” it is still hard to grasp what occurred in this case.  Why did Yaakov’s well intentioned plan to save his twin from the wild animals of spiritual ruin go so badly awry? This is especially quizzical in light of the Zohar’s observation that “praiseworthy is he who takes the guilty/sinful by hand [and leads them along the path of repentance and tikkun]”

The Biskovitzer explains that while kiruv is a most praiseworthy endeavor it is wasted upon those whose evil is intrinsic and incorrigible rather than those whose evil is acquired through the incorrect exercise of their free-will. Echoing the Maharal’s clarification for Esav’s in-utero scurrying towards temples of idolatry and, no doubt, paraphrasing earlier sources, the Biskovitzer goes so far as to identify Esav with the primordial serpent who enticed Adam and Chavah into Original Sin.  In other words; Esav is not a good kid gone bad, he is just plain bad. He is not one who falls prey to the yetzer hara he IS the yetzer hara. Such evil is incorrigible, dealing with it in any way, even for the noble goal of its rehabilitation, is doomed to failure and to vicious, attacking ingratitude.

Read more Forbidden Kiruv

Wake Up and Smell the Bacon

It was my first visit back to my parents’ house since I became frum. Over a year had passed, a year without the king-size bed in their guest room, without central heating, without 24/7 access to a fully stocked fridge and cupboard. My mother had, most graciously, stocked up on every kind of O-U foodstuff she could find on the supermarket shelves.

My father, on the other hand, hadn’t spoken to me for half a year.

I felt some trepidation, leaving the womb of yeshiva for the spiritual wilderness of Palm Springs, CA and a secular home. I hardly felt competent to survive without my rabbeim at arm’s reach and without a local makolet that stocked only glatt-kosher food. I had no notion what I would do if a question came up on Shabbos that wasn’t addressed in my English translation of Shemirath Shabbath. I wasn’t even certain how to manage lighting my oil menorah for Chanukah — I had never used anything other than 30 minute candles.

But what I really wasn’t ready for was the first real evidence of how much I had changed.

I woke up my first morning back, not contemplating the luxury of my overlarge bed, but rather with mild bewilderment as my first conscious thought formed around the question, “What is that horrible smell?” It permeated my room, suggesting something dead and rancid, and it seemed incongruous with the obsessive cleanliness that dominated every corner of my mother’s house.

I don’t remember whether I finally identified the odor on my own, or whether I actually had to go out and investigate. But I do remember the source.

Bacon. A whole pound of bacon sizzling in the oven.

Let me explain. Before becoming frum, there was no food in the world that I enjoyed more than bacon. I could eat as much of it as anyone could cook up and serve me. Forget the eggs. Skip the flapjacks. Pass on the toast. Nothing else was worth eating if bacon was on the menu.

So that first morning back my father had started cooking, hoping that powerful aroma of cured pig flesh would penetrate my sinuses and my psyche, vanquishing the religious fanaticism that had taken hold of his once-sensible son.

It’s not remarkable that Dad’s plan didn’t work. Anyone who exchanges a year’s commitment to Torah for a whiff of bacon was never really committed to begin with. What is so remarkable is that an aroma that had previously aroused my senses like the fragrance of Gan Eden now turned my stomach before I even recognized what it was.

This, I realized, is the power of Torah. The power to transform us, to change who we are so that even our temptations change. I would later hear my Rosh Yeshiva say many times that, more than anything else, our yeitzer hara shows us where we are up to in the world. The desires that tempt us at one point in our development later hold no attraction for us because we are no longer the people we once were. As we become more spiritually refined, so too do our physical and material impulses adapt to challenge us on our new level.

I often wonder if, as ba’alei tshuva, we sell ourselves short, waxing nostalgic over the days when we were “free” to do as we pleased, or setting too modest goals because we think it unreasonable to expect more from ourselves. What a pity if we don’t appreciate how much we have changed, and how we can continue changing and growing with every day and week and year.

First published Jun 14, 2006

Losing Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was supposed to remain a lifeline with my Before Teshuva world. At first, I stubbornly held on to New Year’s, defiantly rationalizing that we live by the secular calendar, too. But in truth, I’d long been uncomfortable with the idea that we kept our dates by their relation to the death of the Christian deity. (That’s pretty weird for a supposedly secular country.) Halloween was no great loss with the introduction of Purim. And, on Fourth of July, I usually serve my family something sweet and patriotically decorated and take the kids to a quiet spot to watch fireworks.

Then I lost Thanksgiving.

Rabbeim have poskened that Thanksgiving has non-Jewish roots. Someone unhelpfully provided us with a pamphlet spelling out the problem. And since no one in the kids’ yeshivas does it, and, more importantly, I’ve lost my rebellious spirit in the realization that no matter how much I bristle, the frum way is usually best, after all…we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving either.

And now I feel a loss on that late November Thursday. I miss the politically uncorrect Pilgrims, stuffing, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Milchig.

Originally Posted in Beyond BT’s first month on December 2005

Parsha Chayei Sarah – Your Billionaire Opportunity

וַיִּֽהְיוּ֙ חַיֵּ֣י שָׂרָ֔ה מֵאָ֥ה שָׁנָ֛ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה וְשֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֑ים שְׁנֵ֖י חַיֵּ֥י שָׂרָֽה
And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; (these were) the years of the life of Sarah.

The Midrash brings a related incident:
רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא הָיָה יוֹשֵׁב וְדוֹרֵשׁ וְהַצִּבּוּר מִתְנַמְנֵם בִּקֵּשׁ לְעוֹרְרָן אָמַר מָה רָאֲתָה אֶסְתֵּר שֶׁתִּמְלֹךְ עַל שֶׁבַע וְעֶשְׂרִים וּמֵאָה מְדִינָה, אֶלָּא תָּבוֹא אֶסְתֵּר שֶׁהָיְתָה בַּת בִּתָּהּ שֶׁל שָׂרָה שֶׁחָיְתָה מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים וָשֶׁבַע וְתִמְלֹךְ עַל מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים וְשֶׁבַע מְדִינוֹת.
Rabbi Akiva was sitting and teaching, and those assembled there were dozing off. To arouse them, he asked: How could Esther rule over one hundred and twenty seven provinces? It was fitting that Esther, a grandchild of Sarah who lived to one hundred and twenty seven would rule over one hundred and twenty seven provinces.

Why did Rabbi Akiva choose to use this particular point to arouse his students from their slumbering? The Chiddushei HaRim explains that all of Sarah’s years were lived to the fullest and that for each of those years, her ancestor, Esther, merited an entire province, totalling 127 provinces. Breaking it down even further, the Chidushei HaRim says that for every day of her life that she lived fully, Sarah merited a city for Esther and for every hour of her life that she lived fully, she merited a town. Rabbi Akiva was pointing out the eternal value of every single moment. If his students appreciated this, Rabbi Akiva was teaching, they would arouse themselves and focus on every minute and every second of their learning.

Rabbi Akiva’s lesson, as expounded by the Chiddushei HaRim, has astounding impact when we apply it to shmiras halashon. Throughout the day, we are invariably faced with several situations that test the way we guard our speech. And every one of the moments is an opportunity to create unfathomable reward. The Midrash says:
שֶׁעַל כָּל רֶגַע וְרֶגַע שֶׁאָדָם חוֹסֵם פִּיו, זוֹכֶה לָאוֹר הַגָּנוּז, שֶׁאֵין כָּל מַלְאָךְ וּבְרִיָּה יָכוֹל לְשַׁעֵר
That for every moment in which a person closes his mouth, he merits the “hidden light” (a spiritual reward) that even the angels and other celestial beings cannot comprehend. The Gra, in Alim LeTerufah points out:
רְאֵה שֶׁלֹּא נִזְכַּר בַּמִּדְרָשׁ חֹדֶשׁ אוֹ שָׁבוּעַ אוֹ יוֹם אוֹ שָׁעָה, רַק רֶגַע
Notice that the Midrash did not say (that he held his tongue for) a month or a week or a day or an hour– just a moment. Every single moment that we choose to properly use our speech, we receive incalculable reward.

In 1984, it was estimated that the average person speaks approximately 860,000,000 words in their lifetime. With the understanding that this estimate was published years before the internet was launched and before email and texting became commonplace, it’s fair to assume that the average person now “speaks” close to a billion words in his lifetime. There are a billion opportunities to merit the greatest reward. That’s a jackpot much greater than the Powerball.

The Takeaway
Esther was rewarded with 127 provinces as a reward for her “Grandmother” Sarah’s 127 years of taking full advantage of every mitzvah opportunity. The Midrash teaches us that the spiritual reward for refraining from improper speech is so great that even the malachim cannot comprehend it. We have nearly a billion opportunities to earn that reward.

This Week
Create a reminder for yourself to be careful with your speech and place it on your cell phone. This can be a pasuk that you tape to your phone, a screen saver, or even just a small sticker that will remind you to be careful about your speech when you use your phone.
___________________________
Shmirah Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

Our Akeidas Yitzchok

And it came to pass after these things, that G-d tested Avraham, and He said to him, “Avraham,” and he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, Yitzchok, and go away to the land of Moriah and bring him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains, of which I will tell you.” (Breishis 22:1-2)

Is it too irreverent to ask about the current and daily relevance of Akeidas Yizchok? There it is in our Siddur to be read every day. What is it telling the “you” and “me” of the world? Sure Avraham Avinu, without question, passed the supreme test of history. That was the height of the heights and yet we find ourselves now as amateur climbers at the base of a tall mountain, gazing with awe in search of a peak at the peak which is shrouded in mysterious cloud cover. How does that loftiest of all accomplishments translate to our ordinary struggles?

A fellow I was learning with, Larry, once told me that he feared that if he didn’t do something dramatic his boys, Jonathan and David, would graduate in a few years from his house without his having ever known them. Until now when he would try to ask them about school they would answer in the shortest way “OK” or “AHA” and he felt he had only the smallest window into their world. What happened to him at work was even less important to them. They would only speak to him sincerely if they were asking for 5$ or a ride. He felt more like a banker or a cabby than a parent.

I strongly suggested he turn Friday night into Shabbos, even though he was not yet a complete Shomer Shabbos- a keeper of the Shabbos. Buy the boys’ favorite foods. Get some grape juice and some fluffy raisin Challos. Arrange your schedule to be home from work on time and have your wife light a couple of candles. Bless the boys in a formal way and require that everyone attend.

Prepare with your wife some stories or lessons that deal with issues or ideals you wish to address. Read from a book each week and play games with them. The hardest and steepest challenge will be not to answer the holy telephone. Let the message machine do its job.

Within a few months Larry was already glowing with joy. The boys were eating up not just the tasty food but the quality of family time and relationship they were building during this time. A while later one of the boys asked if he could go on an overnight Friday night to a friend. The mother rightly told him “no” because this is their special family time.

The next week Larry came home excited with hockey tickets for a Stanley Cup play-off final that somebody in the office had given him. It was for Friday night. He wife looked at him and said, “If you go there on our Friday Night then I will never be able to say “no” to the boys when they might make a similar request.”

With the courage of Avraham at Akeidas Yitzchok, Larry courageously and wisely obeyed his wife and “sending forth his hand” -forfeited those treasured tickets. He missed the Stanley Cup Play-Off Game that year but he kept his family together over many years. He reports to me how close they have grown as a family unit because of their tenacious loyalty to that sacred appointment.

A 7th grade boy was once begging me to find out how he could get a custom filter fitted for his Smart Phone. On his own he went to a designated location where some volunteer tech guys could adjust his phone and remove temptation from his reach. It was heroic and perhaps on his level not less than Avraham Avinu giving up his beloved son.

Taking a bold step in the right direction, curbing a debilitating habit, giving up on what we love for something greater is a not just a mini-replica, it’s our Akeidas Yitzchok!

Helping Baalei Teshuva Be Themselves

Many years ago, Rabbi Ben Tzion Kokis, formerly the Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshivas Ohr Somayach of Monsey wrote an article titled Helping Baalei Teshuva Be Themselves.

Here is an excerpt. Please read the whole article below.

This is one of the most crucial, yet painful, stages in a baal teshuva’s development: the realization that in the world of Torah he cannot follow his own hunches in deciding what is right and what is wrong. The average baal/baalas teshuva grew up in a culture where there were no, or precious few, moral absolutes. Very often, society places pleasure and gratification as the only criteria for choices in life. Even when a sense of moral correctness is sought, the main standard of judgment is the dictates of his own conscience: are you being true to your own sense of justice and decency? Suddenly, having made a commitment to a life of Torah, things are no longer so simple. He may very likely find that compared to the past, he is having a much harder time making decisions, because he no longer can think only in terms of what he thinks is appropriate, but rather what is really right, through the eyes of the Torah.

Here is the whole article:

1/4/07
The gemora tells us a revealing event which took place in the early stages of Rebbe Akiva’s growth. “Rebbe Akiva said: ‘At the beginning of my study, I once chanced upon a “mais mitzva” (abandoned corpse) by the roadside. I strained for four parsaos to bring the body to a cemetery. When I came to my teachers and told them, they said to me, “Akiva! Every step you took was like spilling innocent blood, because a mais mitzva should be buried in the place where the body lies.” At that time, I resolved never to leave my teachers’ side.”

This reaction of Rebbe Akiva to his well-intentioned error is probably familiar to all of us, but especially to the ba’al teshuva. How often the halacha runs counter to what our intuistion would have dictated, and how easy it is to make an assumption about the right way to do things, only to discover that the halacha says otherwise.

This is one of the most crucial, yet painful, stages in a ba’al teshuva’s development: the realization that in the world of Torah he cannot follow his own hunches in deciding what is right and what is wrong. The average ba’al/ba’alas teshuva grew up in a culture where there were no, or precious few, moral absolutes. Very often, society places pleasure and gratification as the only criteria for choices in life. Even when a sense of moral correctness is sought, the main standard of judgement is the dictates of his own conscience: are you being true to your own sense of justice and decency? Suddenly, having made a commitment to a life of Torah, things are no longer so simple. He may very likely find that compared to the past, he is having a much harder time making decisions, because he no longer can think only in terms of what he thinks is appropriate, but rather what is really right, through the eyes of the Torah.

Even questions which would seem to call for a purely subjective evaluation are not left up to the inclinations and preferences of the individual. Defining beauty, for instance, becomes a complex proposition when a lulav or esrog is concerned; the Torah’s requirement of “hadar” is not left up to one’s aesthetic instincts. On occasion, the opposite is true: the esrog which you may consider “pretty” may be barely kosher by the Halacha’s standards, while the real “m’hudar” could be less than dazzling in everyday terms. The more one becomes conditioned to the world of halacha, it would seem, the less valid individual preferences become.

Succeeding in this transition is a milestone in one’s integration of Torah, and perhaps could even be viewed as the watershed event in the whole process of teshuva. However, this success is often accompanied by the seeds of a serious problem, which, if not acknowledged and dealt with, can have a negative effect on one’s entire life. There are areas in life in which it is absolutely crucial that one be very much in touch with his own feelings, and those feelings must be taken seriously. Too often the ability to trust one’s own instincts is a casualty of the transition of teshuva, with the result that even in personal issues the healthy input of internal judgement is not part of the decision-making process.

Consider the (true) story of S—-, a woman in her early thirties whom this writer had occasion to meet. She is a highly intelligent, strong-minded person, who was very proud of her skills and accomplishments as a special-ed teacher. She had taught successfully in an inner-city public school, a fact which spoke volumes about the strength of character which lay beneath her otherwise mild demeanor. She was also the mother of an infant, and had been recently divorced, after a marriage of …less than a month. S—–described how her advisors had urged her to marry a particular young man, also a ba’al teshuva, although she had very little feeling for him as a person. Several years her junior, he was a nice enough person, but just did not have the character and maturity which a woman like S—- expected from a husband.

After a tense few weeks, it became clear to their advisors that there really was no hope for the marriage, and a divorce was arranged. What I found astonishing was not the divorce; rather, the decision to get married in the first place was incomprehensible. How could such an intelligent and independent woman have allowed herself to enter a lifelong relationship with someone toward whom she felt so little? When I posed this question to S—-, she replied that there had been pressure to get married- she wasn’t getting any younger, of course- and individuals whose opinion she respected reassured her that everything would be OK, afterwards it will be different, etc., etc. So, although deep down she had misgivings about her decision, her strength of personality was able to squelch those doubts, and she went ahead with the marriage.

This may be an extreme example. It is clear, however, that such decisions do not occur in a vacuum. They only occur if one has previously relinquished a degree of personal judgement, and developed a distrust of his or her own instincts. This phenomenon may all too often accompany the transition of a young man or woman into a life of Torah, and it is specifically the most sincere and idealistic personalities who are susceptible to falling into this pattern.

Considerable care is therefore required on the part of those who are involved in this area of chinuch. Tremendous sensitivity must be used in order to ensure that the growth of a ben- or bas-Torah not come at the cost of a diminishing of a personality. A clear distinction must be made between yielding one’s judgement in halachic matters, and maintaining a secure sense of identity in personal decisions. And, as was suggested above, the problem is not that the individual is a “weak” personality. Rather, it may be a side effect of the process of teshuva itself.

Conflicts similar to the shidduch situation described above may arise in other areas. Let us examine several more common examples of this phenomenon.

The question of spending significant time in yeshiva and kollel, or becoming involved in the world of parnoso, confronts every ben-Torah to some degree. But the guidance given to a ba’al- or ba’alas teshuva in this regard must take into account that this individual is a product of cultural and educational influences which, for better or for worse, played a great role in forming his personality and attitudes. Both external and internal factors influence a person to define accomplishment in secular terms. Externally, the values of one’s family and friends create certain expectations; even more importantly, an individual learns to gauge his own fulfillment, and accordingly to feel self-worth, in terms of career goals and material success.

When the Hashgochoh provides a young adult with the opportunity to be exposed to Torah, there is a tendency to view the previous years as being irrelevant to the “new” person who is developing in the yeshiva. But in reality, while an individual sincerely admires and identifies with the emes and gadlus of the Torah, and the rabbeim and senior chaverim who have become his role models, this does not mean that he has become a totally new person in the span of a few months. One cannot just slip on a set of attitudes like a new suit of clothes. There are many underlying issues of self-esteem which must also be dealt with, specifically because he is a ba’al teshuva, before a total transformation has taken place. Therefore, there are bound to be a different set of considerations when advising a ba’al teshuva in this regard.

It must be borne in mind that the challenges which he will face will be very different than those facing other b’nei Torah, and less emotional support is available to him, as compared to “conventional” yeshiva or Bais Yaakov students. The latter grew up in a social and educational system which was structured to encourage and facilitate dedication to Torah and mitzvos, and sacrifices made for that cause are generally supported by family and friends. It is so painfully different for the ba’al and ba’alas teshuva!

Several years ago a young man approached me a few days before his wedding. He was close to tears. He had been under tremendous pressure to take care of numerous arrangements for his chasuna, since his family were not able/willing to be involved. He was paying for a good part of his own wedding. In addition, the plans for his oyfruf were being complicated by his family’s insistence that they would just drive in on Shabbos, since they didn’t feel comfortable staying with strangers who had offered hospitality. But this was not what had caused his distress. A kollel member who had in fact been very helpful to the choson as he progressed in his Torah learning, and whom this bochur held in the utmost esteem, had scolded him sharply for being so distracted from his learning in the days before his chasuna…”Your kallah will lose her respect for you!” was the message that he had heard, from someone whose opinion meant an awful lot to him.

How unfair it was to criticize this sincere young man, who was doing his best to make his own chasuna, by applying standards that would only apply to a bochur whose parents are taking care of all the arrangements!

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that ba’alei teshuva shouldn’t dedicate themselves to learning Torah in a serious way. But it does mean that decisions should be made carefully, with full awareness of the specific needs and capabilities of this individual. Many times, peer pressure or a tendency to conform to conventional norms, rather than measured guidance, seem to be prime factors in making major decisions, and nisyonos which could have been avoided are instead created. The obligation of “aytza tova” would certainly dictate that a mechanech should look to the long-range benefit and health of his or her talmidim.

It is crucial to note that this is the counsel which gedolim have taught. Take the following incident, for example, as related to this writer by the rosh yeshiva of one of the major yeshivos for ba’alei teshuva in Yerushalayim.

A talmid of the yeshiva had been studying in a prestigious European university, and had a few months to go before earning a Master’s degree, which would virtually guarantee him a teaching position of his choice. However, having become enthusiastically involved in learning, he saw no point in completing his studies, since at this point he felt no desire to ever re-enter the academic world. The rabbeim of his yeshiva expressed misgivings at this course of action, and suggested that he invest the few months of study to finish his degree, and then continue learning, so that his options will be open in case the need will arise at some future date to seek a teaching position. (It is important to note that his field of study was not problematic from a Halachic standpoint.)

The talmid said that he appreciated his rabbeim’s concern, but it was clear to him that he had no desire to be a college professor, so he had no reason to stop learning. His Rosh Yeshiva then suggested that they discuss the issue with Moran HoRav Shach, shlit”a, and the bochur quickly agreed, confident that he would find total sympathy for his position, since Rav Shach’s stand on the primacy of learning over all else is well known. Much to the surprise of the talmid, however, the advice of Rav Shach was to finish his degree, and then devote himself totally to growth in Torah.

What is noteworthy is that this advice was based on a consideration of the unique issues which face ba’alei teshuva, and would not be applied across the board to the conventional yeshiva talmid.

A similar situation exists with connection to something which is taken for granted in the Torah world: that as a young man or woman enter adulthood, it is natural and desirable that they plan on marrying and raising a family. This is no longer a given in the general society, and in many cases, ba’alei/ba’alos tehuva were educated to look with disdain at this way of life. A mechanech cannot underestimate the influence of “yuppieism” and Women’s Lib on the attitudes of his students, and thoughtful attention must be paid to the underlying issues of sharing and responsibility that are so crucial in establishing a successful home. The stamina and understanding that are so necessary for building a strong relationship and raising children, do not suddenly form out of thin air when a young man or woman becomes committed to Torah and mitzvos.

The question must always be asked: Is this individual emotionally ready for marriage? Or is he or she responding only on a mental, hashkofoh level to what seems to be the “expected” thing to do in the Torah community? Again, sensitivity to the personal dimension of chinuch is indispensable, and will do much to avoid later complications and anguish.

An exceptional young man had become religious, and was learning most of the day in an established Yeshiva for ba’alei teshuva, while running a family business for part of the day. He started the shidduchim process, and for approximately a year was meeting young women, with no success. After a while, one of his rabbeim began to wonder: This young man seems to have everything going for him. He’s very intelligent, sensitive, has a good livelihood, a warm personality; why isn’t he connecting with the young women whom he’s meeting? The rebbe had an insight, and asked the bochur, “Tell me something. If you hadn’t become religious a few years ago, would you also be dating now with intent to get married?”

The young man thought for a moment, and said, “No, I wouldn’t.”

“Why not?” the rebbe asked. The young man told him that several years before, he had ended a serious relationship, and had been hurt very much by the break-up. He didn’t feel emotionally ready yet for this level of commitment. “That’s understandable,” the rebbe replied, “but if so, how can you be involved in shidduchim now?”

The answer was, that this is what you’re “supposed” to do when you’re frum! But it was not yet where the young man was in his personal development. Once this point was recognized, he dealt with the issue, and was engaged a few months later, and is building a beautiful home.

We have attempted to describe a few areas in which the integration of the ba’al/ ba’alas teshuva into the world of Torah requires special sensitivity. The common denominator is that young men and women must be taken seriously as people- both by their teachers and by themselves- to ensure their healthy and mature integration into the fabric of Klal Yisroel.

Tzidkus and Chassidus

It always bothered me that although Noach is favorably called a Tzaddik in the Torah, the adjective, “in his generation”, is taken by one opinion in the Medrash to be a disgrace, by unfavorably comparing him to Avraham, who embodied Chassidus, in his generation.

Another problem I’ve had is that the introduction of Mesillas Yesharim states that Chassidus is the goal, while in Chapter 13, which is the beginning of Chassidus, he says that the majority of the people cannot reach Chassidus. It is enough if they reach Tzidkus. Why did Hashem set up this two tier system of Tzidkus and Chassidus and what should we be aiming for?

Perhaps the answer is that Tzidkus, doing all the mitzvos, is Hashem’s requirement for us to live a proper spiritual life. However, the ultimate goal is to develop an everlasting connection to Hashem, and for that we need Chassidus, to go beyond the basic requirements, to show our love of Hashem.

Noach is discredited for achieving the admirable level of a Tzaddik because that is not enough, we need to go beyond the basics to develop the deeper connection to Hashem, like Avraham.

We all have a requirement to do all the mitzvos and to try to reach Tzidkus, and most of us will not reach Chassidus in all our ways, as the Mesillas Yesharim has stated. However we all have opportunities on a regular basis to go beyond the basic requirements, to perform acts of Chassidus, to develop a closer connection to Hashem. Whether that is giving up our seat, showing genuine concern for another individual, doing a mitzvah in the best possible way, etc… We have to strive for the Tzidkus of Noach, but also look for opportunities to emulate the Chassidus of the Avos.

Start Shnayim Mikra V’Echod Targum This Week with Bereishis

Chazal (the sages) instituted a weekly spiritual growth mechanism which takes advantage of the power of Torah learning called Shnayim Mikra V’Echod Targum, which is reading the weekly Torah portion twice in Hebrew and its translation once.

The Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berurah describe different levels of performing Shanyim Mikra, but here’s the easiest way which will enable you to perform it and achieve its spiritual growth benefits:

1) Read out load the Parsha in Hebrew during the week to fulfill the first Hebrew reading.
2) Learn he Art Scroll translation in English during the week (It’s best to verbalize what you read). This fulfills the translation component.
3) On Shabbos, during the public leining read along out loud quietly to fulfill the second Hebrew reading.

Each week counts as a separate mitzvah so don’t fret if you miss a week.

Check out https://shnayimyomi.org/

Rabbi Jonathan Rietti was kind enough to allow us to post the outline here, but you can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash for the low price of $11.95 for yourself and your family.

Bereshis
#1 Creation of the Universe
#2 Creation of Man
#3 The Snake
#4 Cain Kills Hevel
#5 Ten Generations of Adam
#6 Warning of Global Destruction

#1 Creation of the Universe
1st Day: Heaven-Earth – Light-Darkness
2nd Day: Rakia is split
3rd Day: Land-Sea & Vegetation
4th Day: Sun-Moon & Stars
5th Day: Fish-Birds-Creepies – Blessing to Multiply
6th Day: Animals – Man-Dominate-Tzelem-Blessing to Multiply. 

#2 Creation of Man
* Shabbat – Heavens and Earth complete 
* Rain-Man
* Creation of Adam & Chava
* Located in Gan Eden
* Tree of Life & Tree of Knowledge of Good and Negative
* Four Rivers: 1) Pishon; 2) Gihon; 3) Hidekel (Tigris); 4) Euphrates
* One Command: “Don’t eat from Tree of Knowledge or you will die!”
* Not Good To Be Alone
* No Companion – Adam Names all the animals
* Sleep
* Chava Created
* Naked

#3 The Snake
* Snake was Cunning
* Chava Ate
* Adam Ate
* Eyes opened-Clothes
* “Where Are You?”
* Adam blames Wife – G-d
* Chava blames snake
* The Snake’s Curse: Most cursed, Legless, Eat dust, Hated, Slide.
* Woman’s Curse: Pain in Pregnancy, Childbirth, Child-Raising, Husband will Dominate.
* Man’s Curse: Ground is cursed, Sweat from toil, Death-return to dust
* Man names his wife ‘Chava’
* Expulsion from Gan Eden

#4 Cain Kills Hevel
* Hevel’s offering
* HaShem rejects Cain’s offering
* “Why are you depressed? Pick yourself up and start again!”
* Cain kills Hevel
* Cain is cursed – Wanderer
* Cain’s children: Chanoch & Lemech-City named Chanoch
* Chanoch – Irad – M’huyael – Metusha’el – Lamech marries Adda & Tzilah.
* Adda mothers Yaval & Yuval (Yaval is first nomad, Yuval makes musical instruments).
* Tzilah mothers Tuval Cain – (he invents weapons and metal works)
* Tzilah mothers Naama
* Adam reunites with Chava – Shet

#5 Ten Generations of Adam
1st Gen. Adam 930
2nd Gen. Shet 912
3rd Gen. Enosh 905
4th Gen. Keinan 910
5th Gen. Mehalalel 895
6th Gen. Yered 962
7th Gen. Chanoch 365
8th Gen. Metushelach 969
9th Gen. Lemech 777
10th Gen. Noach-Shem-Cham-Yafet

#6 Warning of Global Destruction
* Population explosion
* Fallen Angels take women
* 120 year life limit
* Titans
* Man’s entire agenda was wickedness all day!
* Decree to destroy entire world except Noach

Sukkos – The Jews Inner Self

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download this and a number of other Drashos on Sukkos

Sukkah and the Four Species – The Dual Natures of Man

On Sukkos, we have two mitzvos: to sit in the sukkah, and to shake the Four Species. These two mitzvos represent the two sides of man. The Four Species, which we shake around and move, represent how man is always in movement. We are full of various retzonos (desires), and all of these desires are a kind of movement. The mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah represents a totally different side to us. In a sukkah, we don’t move; we sit there.

Hashem is mainly called by two names. The lower name of Hashem is “adonoy” – He is our adon, our master. This refers to how we serve him with the mitzvos. The higher name of Hashem is the four-letter name of havayah, and this refers to the simple recognition of His existence. The two names of Hashem reflect the two sides of our life’s mission. On one hand, we “move” constantly by doing all the mitzvos. This is how relate to Hashem as our Master, Whom we serve; that He is adonoy. But the inner essence to our life is that we recognize his existence and integrate our own existence as a part of Hashem. This is how we relate to Hashem with his higher name, havayah. It is the deeper part of our life.

The fact that Hashem exists is not just a fact about life, but it is something which we can connect ourselves to. The mitzvah of sitting in the Sukkah is entirely about this concept – to sit in Hashem’s Presence, with no need to move around, and instead to connect to Hashem’s Endlessness.

In this discussion, the intention is not merely to say a nice dvar Torah for Sukkos, but rather, to define the very essence of Sukkos: accessing our innermost point of our self – our point of non-movement – when we integrate with Hashem. It is also a concept that has ramifications to our entire life. It is the way how we can prepare for the future, when we will sit in the Sukkah made of the leviathan skin.

The depth of our Avodah on Sukkos is to combine the two sides of mankind and integrate them together: the Four Species, which represents our mitzvos\movement, and the mitzvah of sitting in the Sukkah, which represents our recognition of Hashem\non-movement.

Our Actual Essence Vs. The Outer Layers of the Self

We will try to explain this as much as Hashem allows us to understand it.

The most complicating thing in the world is our self. Anything else we recognize are all superficial realities – such as our house, the block we live on, the country we live in, even the world; it’s all an external, superficial kind of recognition. If this is all a person knows of, then he lives a superficial kind of existence – he lives on the outside world. He is thinking all the time about things that are outside of himself. The clothing we wear is not either a part of who we are.

When a person begins to look for his inner essence, he is apt to think that he “is” what he “does.” He identifies himself based on his actions, his emotions, and his thoughts.

For example, a person has an affinity to do chessed (kindness), so he thinks of himself as a “good person” since he sees that he is drawn towards doing good things. When he has to reprimand his children sometimes, he feels horrible inside, because now he thinks he’s a “bad person” by having to act cruel to them.

If a person is deeper, he knows that there is more to himself than the actions he does. He is aware of his thoughts – and he identifies himself based on what’s going on in his mind. Yet this is erroneous as well, because a person is not his thoughts either.

Our actions, our emotions, and our thoughts are just outer layers that cover over our essence. They are like garments that clothe our soul.[1] But there is more to who we are than our actions, emotions, and thoughts.

How can a person identify who he really is?

To be frank, there is almost no one who truly knows who he is, and there is almost no one as well who really recognizes Hashem. If a person doesn’t know he really is, he can’t either recognize Hashem!

There are many people who are searching to find Hashem. But, it is written “From my flesh I see G-d”[2]; in other words, we need to know who we are in order to be able to recognize Hashem.

Only By Recognizing Our Self Can We Recognize Hashem

We will expand more upon these words, because it is a very fundamental concept which needs to be understood well.

There is no person who has no self-knowledge of himself whatsoever; all of us know ourselves to a certain extent, besides for those who have become mentally ill (may G-d have mercy upon them). But the way we understand ourselves is superficial: we recognize ourselves based on the outer parts of our self, such as our actions, our conversations, our emotions, and our thoughts. These are outer layers to our soul – garments that cover over our actual soul – and therefore these factors are not a real way to identify ourselves.

When a person only has a superficial understanding of himself, he will in turn have a superficial relationship towards G-d. It is written, “From my flesh, I see G-d”, so if a person doesn’t properly recognize his own “flesh”, his real self, he won’t come to really identify Hashem either. As a result, he will never form a deep bond with the Creator, because he doesn’t really conceptualize the Creator’s existence in the first place.

We can compare this to a person who wishes to grind flour but he has no home appliance to grind it with. The “I” in a person is a tool for one to recognize the Creator of the World, because “The Holy One and Yisrael are one”. If someone recognizes his own Yisrael, the Jew inside himself – his beginning, for Yisrael is called “the beginning” (see Rashi Beraishis 1:1), then he can come to recognize the beginning of his own beginning, which is the Creator; the Ultimate Beginning. But if a person never got to his own beginning, and he only knows of branches from his beginning – his various abilities – then not only is he missing a bond with the Creator, but he is missing his own Jew within. The essence of the Jew is that he is a Yisrael; thus, if a Jew does not recognize that he is Yisrael deep down in his soul, he is missing self-recognition.

How indeed can a Jew attain self-recognition? It is not written in any sefer\book in the entire world. A book is an outer entity, and thus it impossible for the actual “I” to be described in any book! If the “I” could be written about in a book, that would be releasing the “I” from its inner chamber out into the open world, and that itself is impossible.

The only one who can reveal the “I” is Hashem Himself. “I am Hashem your G-d.” The word anochi (I) stands for the words ana nafshai kesavis yehavis, “I Myself can write this.”[3] In other words, the only one who can write about the “I” is Hashem. Hashem has given us the tool in how we can recognize Him: the more we recognize our self, the more we recognize Him. If we have only a superficial self-recognition, then our recognition of Hashem will also be superficial. If we recognize what our essence is, then we will be able to recognize the essence of Hashem.

The Torah begins with the letter beis, in the word Beraishis. The Ten Commandments began with the letter aleph, in the word “Anochi.” The depth of this is that Hashem reveals Himself in the letter Aleph, which is the beginning letter. If we come to our letter “aleph” in our soul – our point of beginning – then we will be able to come to the total level of Aleph, the Absolute One, the Absolute Beginning – the One who existed, exists and will always exist: the Creator. But if man doesn’t recognize who he is, then he won’t be able to recognize his Creator.

What is the most hidden thing in Creation? Hashem’s Name is never pronounced. Whenever the Name of Havayah is used in the Torah, we read it as “Adonoy.” The actual “I” of Hashem, even when it is written, is never read. And when we do read a name of Hashem, it is not written there. This is not only a fact about reading Torah. It a perspective to have on Creation, a perception of our soul.

There in inner kind of writing of our soul which cannot be read. If we could read it, we would be in the state of Moshiach’s times, which we are not in right now. When we all will be able to pronounce the Name of Havayah, Moshiach will come. Nowadays, only a few individuals are allowed to use the Name of Havayah. Our Avodah is for us to reach the Name of Havayah of Hashem, which we do not currently recognize.

We usually relate to Hashem with the fact that we must do the mitzvos He commanded us with. However, there is an inner aspect to our relationship towards Hashem which we start out being unaware of, and we must discover it. It is the fact that we are not just servants of our Master, but rather, our whole existence is connected with Him.

That is the difference between the lower name of Hashem, Adonoy, and the higher name of Hashem, which is Havayah. The lower name, Adonoy, represents how we must do the mitzvos, for He is our Master. The name of Adonoy implies that our relationship with Him is dependent on the actions we do. The higher name, Havayah, reflects that we are all integrated with Hashem, regardless of what we do or not, because the connection is intrinsic. “A Jew who sins is still a Jew.”

The point of havayah – our true existence, in which we are integrated with Hashem – is the point that is hidden away deep in the soul. When we do the mitzvos, it builds the outer layers of our soul, but it doesn’t build the point of havayah in the soul.

When a person performs a mitzvah, he is doing an action. The root of all action is the power of ratzon – the will. The will represents man’s nature to always be in movement; ratzon comes from the word ratz, to “run”, to move. If a person considers his ratzon to be the deepest part of himself, he identifies himself with the power of movement, of action. He is at the level of the Four Species, which move in all six directions of the world – but he hasn’t yet gotten to his own self. He hasn’t yet gotten to the “Sukkah” inside himself – to the “Yisrael” inside him, his true “I.”

With a poor sense of self-recognition, even a person sitting in the Sukkah doesn’t grasp what the concept of Sukkah is. Although it appears as if he’s reached the point of non-movement, because he’s sitting in the Sukkah – he’s only there physically, but he doesn’t see himself as being in the tzeila d’meheimenusa, the “shadow of faith” that the Sukkah is. He’s doing all the mitzvos for His Master, but he hasn’t yet reached emunah – the sukkah that is all about emunah, recognizing Hashem’s existence.

Thus, there are essentially two stages in our bond with Hashem: first we become His loyal servants by doing all his mitzvos. At a later stage in life, we must eventually enter the second, inner stage, which is to recognize Him with our emunah. These two stages are represented by two great events that our people went through: the exodus of Egypt and the Giving of the Torah. By the exodus, we were released from Pharoah’s servitude and now we became servants of Hashem. By Sinai, Hashem revealed Himself with the giving of the Torah, and now we reached a new level: we recognized Hashem.

When Hashem revealed Himself by the Torah, He did not reveal Himself with His lower name, Adonoy, but rather with His higher name, Havayah. This shows us that the Torah is essentially the higher name of Hashem, Havayah.

For this reason, we never really begin to learn the actual Torah, because we are not connected to Havayah. And surely, we never finish it, for that reason. “The Torah of Hashem is wholesome, it settles the soul.” The Baal Shem Tov said that the Torah is wholesome and perfect because no one has ever begun to learn it and complete it. What is the meaning of his statement? No one ever begun to learn the Torah?! The meaning is that the Torah throughout the generations until the end of time is not yet the actual Name of Hashem to us, and this is the deep reason why the Name of Hashem is not allowed to be pronounced.

When a person recognizes his real essence, he merits to truly learn the Torah – the essence of the Torah. Through his learning, he can then come to recognize Hashem – not just the actions and middos of Hashem, but an actual recognition of Hashem Himself, so to speak, in the same way that he recognizes his own essence.

Only a person who feels his own essence can come to feel the reality of Hashem. Of course, anyone will claim that he can feel himself as existing, not just a Jew, but any non-Jew as well, and even animals, can feel they exist. But as we explained, most people never arrive at true self-recognition, and they only are aware of the outer layers to their existence.

Summary

To summarize: If we want to define the purpose of Creation, the definition is clear. The purpose of Creation is to recognize the reality of Hashem. The way to get there is through self-recognition. The self is the point in a person which never ceases, for Hashem and Yisrael are one; just as Hashem is eternal, so is a soul of Yisrael eternal. If a person views himself as an entity that can cease, then in turn he views his bond with Hashem with the same superficial perspective.

The soul of a Jew is a “piece of G-d from above”, and therefore, one can come to recognize Hashem through the recognition of himself. A Jew is the only nation on this world which is capable of feeling the inner self and thereby sense the Creator with just as much clarity.

This is the lesson of Sukkos: we have two mitzvos – to sit in the Sukkah and to shake the Four Species. We have both of these mitzvos because we are meant to integrate both of the lessons they represent together. The Four Species represents how we must move to do all the mitzvos, the actions through which we serve our Master with. The mitzvos are the way for us to get through to our heart and reveal it. “The heart is pulled after the actions.”[4]

What is it that we must reveal from our heart? It is not limited to the great exalted feelings of love and fear of Hashem. It is not about becoming awe-struck from elation. It is about reaching our essence, our “I.” The point of doing all the mitzvos is so that we can use all these actions to reach our I” and reveal it. In this way, we integrate Adonoy with Havayah.

The “I” can be reached in several ways. There is way to reach it directly, but only the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur knew the secret of how to do it. The other way is the way which we generally take, and that is through doing all the mitzvos so that we can get through to our essence and recognize the Creator as a result. But when we do the mitzvos, the focus should not be on the actions, but rather on the goal, which is to come to our essence.

Reaching Our Point of Menuchah\Serenity

Understandably, the words here are very deep, but they are the secret about life.

All of us want grow higher and elevate ourselves. Yet, this is still a superficial approach. It’s superficial because life is not just about feeling more elated. Elation is still a kind of movement, and as we explained, movement is only the outer layer of our existence. For this reason, there is almost no one who reaches what he wants in life, because a person keeps evading his main goal, in spite of his many aspirations to grow and become more elated in spirituality.

There is a well-known parable that illustrates this message. A man dreams that there is buried treasure underneath the bridge of his town, while in reality, there is buried treasure sitting underneath his house all along.

The lesson we can learn from this is that even when a person seeks spirituality, he might very be well be running away from his real “treasure” all along. For example, if he thinks that Hashem is in Heaven, while he is merely on this lowly earth, then all he will know of is the mitzvos, and his entire life will be limited to performing superficial actions. The truth is that Hashem is found everywhere (Zohar III 225a) – He is found inside a person! Our Avodah is to uncover our true existence, and then we will find Hashem there.

Of course, it will require a lot of “movements” to get to that inner place in ourselves, but we must at least aspire to reach this point of serenity (menucha). When a person reaches menuchah in himself, Hashem is truly revealed, because menuchah represents Shabbos, the point of non-movement and a cessation from all labor. One who attains menuchah on this world can recognize the Creator, and he attains it no less than how all of us will eventually recognize Hashem in the future. But if someone never reaches the point of menuchah in himself, the “Shabbos” in himself – he will not come to the recognition of the One who created the world.

[1] See Tanya chapter 4, and Tzidkas Hatzaddik 263.

[2] Iyov 19: 26

[3] Yalkut Shimeoni: Shemos 20: 226

[4] Sefer HaChinuch, 16

Five Ways to Do Teshuvah

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of other Drashos on Yom Kippur

“Te-sh-u-v-ah”: An Acronym for Five Different Spiritual Tasks

There is a teaching from our Rabbis[2] that the word teshuvah (תשובה) stands for the following five fundamentals in our avodah (spiritual task):

תמים תהי’ עם ×”’ אלוקיך – “Be simple with Hashem, your G-d.”
שויתי ×”’ לנגדי תמיד – “I place Hashem opposite me, always.”
ואהבת לרעך כמוך – “And you shall love your friend like yourself.”
בכל דרכיך דעהו – “In all your ways, know Him.”
הצנע לכת עם אלוקיך – “Walk modestly with Hashem your G-d.”

We will try here, with the help of Hashem, to reflect into these five aspects involved in doing teshuvah. These five concepts are not randomly placed together. Rather, they all bear a connection to teshuvah, which means to “return”, to one’s root, to his source, to his beginning. Thus, the five verses quoted above are essentially five ways of how one can return to his source.

We will try to explain here how one can practically work on each of these concepts. To work on all of these five steps, practically speaking, is obviously too difficult. Instead, each of us should pick of one these concepts to work on, which is certainly within our power of bechirah (free will) to do, in these days of teshuvah.

1. “Be Simple With Hashem Your G-d” – Returning To Our Childlike Purity

The first concept of teshuvah is: תמים תהי’ עם ×”’ אלוקיך, “Be simple with Hashem your G-d”.

Each of us, when we are born, is born with a quality called temimus (earnestness). As we grow older, naturally, this temimus gets covered over. We can see clearly that young children are pure and trusting, and as they grow older, they begin to know the world around them, and they see that they cannot trust the world that much as they used to. They get used to seeing a world that is far from temimus, and as a result, they learn to stifle their own temimus, so that they can fit into their surroundings.

A child will naturally do anything that others do, believing that everyone around them is pure and acting correctly. There is a deep place in the soul as well, our temimus, which is pure and trusting. But this temimus becomes hidden from use with the more we grow older and we want to mimic our surroundings. But the temimus that remains inside us, deep down, remains dormant in us, as a holy power, a power to be completely trusting of Hashem.

If we wouldn’t be born with this power of temimus, it would be too difficult for us to acquire this power, because it wouldn’t be in our resources. But Hashem, in His great mercy, imbued us with this natural ability, from birth, so that we can regain this nature whenever we need it. We don’t need to acquire this quality of temimus from scratch. Rather, all we need to do is return to our original purity which we are born with. It has merely become covered over and hidden from our conscious awareness. But it is there, deep in our soul.

In this time of the year, when our avodah is to do seek atonement and do teshuvah, anyone with a Jewish soul that is a bit opened, will cry tears to Hashem.

Who usually cries, a child or an adult? Generally speaking, a child cries more than an adult. During this time of the year of teshuvah, each and every one us can naturally return, on some degree, to a state of mind that resembles our pure, childlike state. That is why we can easily cry during these days, epitomizing the verse, “And purify our hearts, to serve You in truth.”

These days are the time of which it says, “Before Hashem, be purified”, where we return to a place of simplicity in ourselves, the inner child in ourselves, of trusting in Hashem. This temimus is still in us and it is especially apparent during these days of teshuvah, and it enables us to cry to Hashem, simply, and earnestly. Once a year, we have this opportunity to return to our childlike state. As Dovid HaMelech said, “Like an infant on his mother’s lap.” We can return to this simple, earnest place in ourselves.

During the rest of the year, it is hard to be in this state of mind. But when we are in front of Hashem during these days, we can let this part of ourselves out from hiding, setting our inner childlike state free, and to let it run to Hashem and cry.

To access this power in ourselves, we may employ the use of our imagination, such as by imagining a child crying in his or her mother’s lap, and to further imagine how the parent lovingly fulfills the child’s request.

The blow of the shofar of Rosh HaShanah is considered to be a form of crying, the Gemara says. When a child is born, he cannot say a thing, and all he can do is cry to his parents. The sound of the shofar is like the child’s cry, and it is a hint that one should be like a child, who can easily cry to his parents; to be able to naturally cry to Hashem.

This concludes with Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, there is also crying, but it is not a crying of sadness and mourning, which is the crying we have in the month of Av. Rather, it is a crying of longing for Hashem, like a child who cries for his parents when he sees his parents leaving the house and leaving him alone.

That is the first part of teshuvah: “Be simple, with Hashem your G-d.” It is our temimus. Sit quietly with yourself, and return to a place in yourself which is childlike, pure and trusting, the purest place that exists deep inside you, which is always there. From there, from that place in yourself, turn to Hashem, and let your crying come forth, letting it flow from your innermost depths. Let us feel that this is the depth of the avodah during these days – “Be wholesome with Hashem your G-d” – and to live with this temimus.

2 – “I Place Hashem Opposite Me, Always” – Becoming Cognizant of Hashem’s Presence

The second concept contained in teshuvah is: שויתי ×”’ לנגדי תמיד, “I place Hashem opposite me, always.”

As is well-known, the Rema in the very beginning of Shulchan Aruch begins with these words: “Shivisi Hashem L’negdi tamid” – “I place Hashem opposite me, always” – “This is the great rule in the praiseworthiness of the righteous, who walk before G-d. For the way a person sits and moves in his house does not compare to the way he sits and moves in the house of the king and when he is in front of the king.”

The Rema’s words here are speaking about the way a Jew should conduct himself during the entire year, but the especially auspicious time of the year to practically work on this concept is during these days of repentance. The Gemara says of the ten days of repentance that one should “Seek Hashem where He is found, call out to Him where he is close”. Now is the time where a person should especially seek out closeness to Hashem, because Hashem is closer to us during this time of the year.

Therefore, even it is too high of a level to try to live with the state of “Shivisi Hashem L’negdi Tamid” – and indeed, it is a high level to always live in it – at least during the ten days of repentance, and certainly at least on Yom Kippur, we should try to attain the state of Shivisi Hashem L’negdi Tamid.

So on Yom Kippur, before we are about to recite Kol Nidrei, and before we are about to daven any of the five tefillos of Yom Kippur, we should first stop and think that we are about to stand before Hashem and speak with Him. Before beginning each Shemoneh Esrei on Yom Kippur, stop for a minute, or half a minute, and think about:

1. Whom you are about to stand in front of, and
2. Whom you are about to speak with, and
3. When you are speaking with Hashem, where are you actually found? Remember that “The entire land is filled with His glory.”

When you speak with Him, it must be “as a man talks to his friend”, as the Mesillas Yesharim explains. Hashem is found in front of us, here, and with Him we are speaking. Hashem has no corporeal body, but His existence is constantly in front of us, and with Him we are conversing.

If one can extend this awareness into the rest of the year as well, that is praiseworthy. But let us at least do it once a day, before we are about to daven. For once a day, before you are about to daven, think for just a few seconds about Whom you are about to speak with.

Even if you cannot be on this level during the rest of the year, at least on Yom Kippur, before each of the five tefillos, stand for a few moments and think that you are about to stand before Hashem and that you will be speaking with Him. You can also try to pause in middle of Shemoneh Esrei every so often and remind yourself that you are standing before Hashem.

Many times while people are davening, their thoughts are floating all over the place and they forget they are davening. Sometimes people are even so immersed in what they are davening for, that they forget that they are standing before Hashem, and with Whom they are speaking! They forget where they are.

Part of doing teshuvah is working upon this concept of “Shivisi Hashem L’Negdi Tamid”. The Rema says that this is the entire praise of the tzaddikim, but even if we cannot be on this level, at least we can aspire for it. After all, “One is obligated to say: “When will my actions reach that of my forefathers?” Although we cannot reach the level of the Avos, we must aspire to reach their level, and indeed, we can certainly touch upon their level, even if we cannot reach it fully.

If someone merits the level that is “complete teshuvah”, he can be in a state of Shivisi during the rest of the year as well. But at least during these days of teshuvah, any person can strive to touch upon this level, and to bring himself to the level of Shivisi Hashem L’negdi Tamid, for just a few moments, and throughout the day.

Even more so, when it is the time to daven Ne’ilah, at the end of Yom Kippur, what kind of thought do we end the day with? How do we spend the last moments of Yom Kippur? When we are saying those words, “L’shanah Habaah B’Yerushalayim!!” (“Next year in Jerusalem”), we can take a few seconds to think about the ultimate purpose of this day. Think that you are standing in front of Hashem, with nothing dividing between you and Hashem – there are no barriers of sin during these moments. For one moment, bring your soul to a state of being “near” Hashem, and be aware that you are speaking with Him.

How much will this awareness extend into the rest of the year as well? That is relative, and it will depend on the level of each person. But the final thought on Yom Kippur, for each person to think, when we are taking leave of the entire year, is a simple thought: We are standing in front of Hashem, and it is with Him that we speak with. If you merit, you will also have moments throughout the year when you can feel this.

If you go into Yom Kippur with this awareness, starting with the tefillah of Maariv on Yom Kippur and leaving the final moments of Yom Kippur with this simple thought, you will certainly have a more elevated year, with siyata d’shmaya. How elevated will it be? That is up to how you choose to spend the rest of the year. But if you go into Yom Kippur with this awareness and you also leave Yom Kippur like this, your soul will receive a deeper perspective, a more purified level of truth. Each person will certainly be positively affected, on varying levels, through this purification.

3. “And You Shall Love Your Friend Like Yourself”: The Mutual Unity In The Jewish People

The third way to teshuvah is: ואהבת לרעך כמוך, “And you shall like your friend like yourself.”

In the beginning of Kol Nidrei, we say that we are permitting ourselves to pray together with [intentional, rebellious] sinners. During the rest of the year, we may not pray together with [intentional] sinners. But on Yom Kippur, there is one day of the year where even those who have gone the most astray in the Jewish people come to daven, and it is permitted for us on this day to pray together with these who have intentionally sinned. This is not simply a day in which more people come to shul to daven. Rather, Yom Kippur contains a power that unifies everyone together. It is “And you shall love your friend like yourself” which connects every Jew together, which is especially apparent on Yom Kippur.

The day of Yom Kippur is the one day of the year which causes Jews from all walks of life to come and gather together. On Yom Kippur, even those who have gone astray and who are very far, will come to shul, with siyata d’shmaya (heavenly assistance). This is not merely an action they are doing. Rather, their hearts are active on this day, seeking atonement from Hashem. Not only are they coming to speak with Hashem, but they become united again with their brethren, the collective whole of the Jewish people. They are not gathered together in shul by coincidence. Rather, there is a light of truth that comes down onto the world on Yom Kippur. The unifying love between all of the Jewish people is this light.

Rabbi Akiva said that Hashem purifies the Jewish people on Yom Kippur, and the same Rabbi Akiva said, “This is the great rule of the Torah: “And you shall love your friend like yourself.” These are not two separate statements of Rabbi Akiva – they are one and the same. The inner essence of Yom Kippur is a Jew’s bond with HaKadosh Baruch Hu, to be purified before Hashem, to be cognizant of Hashem’s presence, and it is also a day of connection with all of the Jewish people.

That is why Yom Kippur does not atone for sins unless one has sought forgiveness from others. Yom Kippur is atonement from sins against Hashem, and it is also a time to seek atonement for sins committed between man and his friend. There is a great light on Yom Kippur of love for all creations, of “And you shall love your friend like yourself”, and therefore there must be seeking of forgiveness from others before Yom Kippur.

Everyone asks each other forgiveness, because, deep down, everyone feels the light of this love. A person may not be consciously aware of this, but “his mazal sees” – his inner soul can feel this truth, that Yom Kippur is a time of mutual connection between the entire Jewish people.

Here is an example of how one can improve on the aspect of ahavas Yisrael on Yom Kippur. In many shuls on Yom Kippur, there are people who are concerned that they should find the best possible place to sit in, worrying solely for themselves, without thinking of how to benefit others. On the holiest day of the year, while standing in front of Hashem, a person may just be entirely self-absorbed, concerned only for himself. But a person on Yom Kippur must think of a possible way to be concerned for others, and make sure that another person is comfortable.

One should look for ways to help someone around him. Another needs help finding seats for his children. Another person will need something else. We should want to daven of course, but we also need to be concerned for others, and fulfill “And you shall love your friend like yourself.”

Practically speaking, you should do something for someone else on Yom Kippur that will come at the expense of some physical comfort, and even if it deters your spiritual focus. I don’t mean that you should give up your entire spirituality on Yom Kippur in order to help someone. But at least in one area, be prepared to give up from yourself for another, whether it deters you physically or spiritually. Do so from a love for others. This should not be done with the agenda of gaining forgiveness from others, which is a self-serving motivation. Rather, do an act of concern for another simply out of a love for another Jew.

An additional point, related to this, is that when we recite Tefillah Zakah (which one should try to say, as stated in Mishnah Berurah), we state that we forgive anyone who has harmed us, whether in this lifetime or in a previous lifetime, except for certain injustices committed against us, which we are not allowed to forgive for, as the Poskim discuss. Besides for those isolated occurrences, we must strive to forgive any Jew who has wronged us, and to do so from the depths of the heart.

This should not be done with the agenda that if I forgive others, then Hashem will forgive me, even though that is true. Rather, the intention should be to forgive every Jew out of a love for all Jews, to desire that they should have it good. It is not about you. Before we go into Yom Kippur, we should awaken our ahavas Yisrael for all Jews, and we should ask ourselves: Do we really want that every Jew this year should have it good, to be sealed for a good year? Or are we each worried only for our own private lives, that only “I” should have it good and that only “I” should be sealed for a good year?

If we truly want that others should have it good, we should then realize that it is insensible to bear any resentment against anyone, even if another has truly insulted you and wronged you. If you really want others to have it good and not only yourself, you should try to forgive, with your whole heart, truthfully, any person in the Jewish people who has wronged you. (To actually reach a “complete heart” is a high level, but even if you are not at that level, you can still be able to forgive someone completely).

You need to reach a point where you truly want every Jew to have a good year this year; you should want even someone who has wronged to merit a good judgment. If you want to take this further, you can even daven for others that they should have a good year. An even higher level than this is to pray for the betterment of those who have wronged you – in spite of the fact that he did not treat you fairly.

One should inspect his heart well before doing this, to see if his heart is at peace with what he is doing. This part of teshuvah – “And you shall love your friend like yourself” – is of the fundamentals of this day of Yom Kippur. Not only should there be practical concern for others on this day, but mainly in your heart, you should feel a greater love for all Jews, on this day.

If you can do the following, try to take upon yourself not to go to sleep at night unless you have done a kindness for a Jew that day. Just do one nice thing a day for another Jew. A day that goes by without doing a kindness for another Jew is a pointless kind of life. The Nefesh HaChaim writes that a person was only created to help others. Only rare individuals can be like Avraham Avinu and do chessed all day, but as for the rest of us, we should at least do one kindness every day for another Jew.

If you can help someone in the active sense, by all means, do so. If you can’t, at least daven for another, or think of how you can help him tomorrow. But don’t go to sleep unless you have done one kindness a day for another Jew. That is how you can extend the light of Yom Kippur into the rest of the year. Yom Kippur is not the only day of the year to love all Jews – we can try during the rest of the year as well to resemble the higher level of ahavas Yisrael that is more natural on Yom Kippur, by doing at least one kindness a day for another Jew.

4) “In All Your Ways, Know Him” – Sanctifying The Physical

The fourth way to teshuvah is: בכל דרכיך דעהו, “In all your ways, know Him.”

There is an entire siman in Shulchan Aruch: Orach Chaim (231) which explains the laws of this mitzvah. In simpler terms, there is so much we do each day. We each do hundreds of tasks each day – physical, and spiritual. We do spiritual acts each day, such as prayer, and there are much physical tasks we do each day. “In all your ways, know Him” means that even our physical acts should be with a spiritual intention.

It would be a very high level to turn all of our physical acts into spiritual acts. That would be the complete level of “In all your ways know Him”, and we cannot try to grab high levels too fast. Instead, we should work on this gradually. Pick one physical act during the day and add a spiritual intention to it.

Here is a simple example, which is applicable to Yom Kippur. On Erev Yom Kippur, there is a mitzvah to eat. There are many different intentions explained in our holy sefarim of how a person should go about eating on Erev Yom Kippur. We all fulfill the mitzvah to eat on Erev Yom Kippur, regardless of our intention in it. But what are we thinking as we eat? By the seudah mafsekes, what are we thinking? Are we just thinking that we are eating, or are we thinking that it is a mitzvah? There are many things we can think about to elevate this act of eating, but here is one inner intention to have.

Each of us, almost without exception, is able to fast on Yom Kippur. In order to fast on Yom Kippur, it is possible to eat little on Erev Yom Kippur, but we would be very weak when fasting on Yom Kippur. If we really want to have concentration when we daven on Yom Kippur, we need energy. On Erev Yom Kippur, we should have the intention that we are eating in order to have the energy to fast on Yom Kippur.

Why do we need the energy to fast? So that we will be more comfortable? People before a fast have the habit to say to each other, “Have an easy fast.” What does an ‘easy’ fast mean? Does it mean that they shouldn’t suffer? Now there are pills people can take before a fast which makes the fast easier. For what reason should we make the fast easier…? If our intentions in wishing others well before a fast are true, it is not about having an easy fast. It is so that we can have the energy on Yom Kippur to daven properly.

So when eating the seudah mafsekes, what are we thinking? What our thoughts then? Let us think for a moment, before we begin to eat, why we are eating. We cannot eat entirely for the sake of Heaven – that is a high level. Rather, let us try to think that we are eating in order to have energy on Yom Kippur and to be able to daven properly.

If you can have this thought before you eat the seudah, and during the seudah as well, this is reaching a degree of “In all your ways, know Him”. Even more so, you can try to eat one food with the intention that you should have energy on Yom Kippur to daven better.

5) “Walk Modestly With Your G-d”: External and Internal Modesty

The final part of teshuvah is:הצנע לכת עם אלוקיך, “Walk modestly with your G-d.”

The task of tzniyus (modesty) is unique to women, but let’s understand the following fundamental point, which is subtle and deep.

Before a person is born, he\she is a fetus inside the mother, hidden from the rest of the world. Nobody sees him; he is covered completely and he is tzanua (hidden, modest). Thus, the very root of our birth begins in a state of tzniyus.

The Maharal says that nothing in Creation is coincidental, even the small things; surely, then, it is not a coincidence that the beginning of our birth is in a state of modesty. Why did Hashem make it this way, that before we emerge into the world, we are hidden for nine months? Before a baby is born, he lives an existence for nine months in which he is hidden from the rest of the world. Why did Hashem make it this way? It is to show us that our very beginning is tzniyus.

Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur: A Time For Modesty

The beginning of the year, Rosh HaShanah, is certainly a time to strengthen our tzniyus. Rosh HaShanah is called “HaYom Haras Olam”, the “day of the conception of the world”. Our Sages said that the word “haras” is from the word “herayon”, conception. Rosh HaShanah is the day in which we are conceived, which serves as a root of tzniyus for the rest of the year.

Rosh HaShanah is also where we blow shofar, which “covers” over sin; as it is written, תקעו בשופר בכסה ליום חגינו, thus shofar is associated with כסה, with “covering.” The Sages expound this verse that said that Rosh HaShanah is a time where the moon is “covered”. The moon becomes more hidden and modest during Rosh HaShanah.[3]

The ten days from Rosh HaShanah until Yom Kippur, where the moon is more covered over, is thus a time for more modesty. On Yom Kippur, the modesty becomes even more apparent: Either we are praying in shul all day on Yom Kippur, or we are praying in the home, away from the rest of the world.

Of the rest of the year, when it is not Yom Kippur, we can apply the verse, כל כבודה בת מלך פנימה – “All of the honor of a princess, is inside” – but only in the partial sense.The glory of a Jewish woman takes place on the “inside” – in the home, and not outside the home; but although the home is the main place for the Jewish woman who is a wife and mother, we know that in the end of the day, women are not found all day in their house; they go out of the home, and certainly in the times we live, this is the case.

But there is one day of the year where a large part of the Jewish people is not outside, and they are found inside, in the home. It is the one time of the year where we can truly apply this verse ofכל כבודה בת מלך פנימה. It is not a coincidence we have a day of the year in which we are not found in the outside world and that this day happens to be Yom Kippur. It is because the underlying essence of Yom Kippur is הצנע לכת עם אלוקיך, “Walk secretly with your G-d” – to be in a place that is tzniyus.

But we must clearly know the following: Tzniyus is not just about covering the body. Being physically covered is certainly the main part of tzniyus in the external sense, but the inner essence (the pnimiyus) of tzniyus takes place inside us, in the depths of our heart. That is where our tzniyus is accessed.

There is a deep place in our heart which is covered and hidden from the rest of the world – and from ourselves. What is hidden from? It is hidden from our own selves, because it is so hidden. But when Yom Kippur comes, our hearts are opened, our pnimiyus is opened, and this inner place of tzniyus in our hearts becomes revealed to us.

During the rest of the year, we are experiencing the outer layers of our souls, and that is where we are seeing our life from. The inner place in our heart is hidden from us. But on Yom Kippur, the inner place in the heart can be revealed to us. Yom Kippur is a time where we are purified, where our hearts are purified to serve Hashem, and this purity of the heart means that the inner place in our heart is revealed to us. This means that on Yom Kippur, each person, on his\her own individual level, can reach the innermost place in himself\herself.

Teshuvah – Entering Deeper Into Ourselves

This is also the depth of doing teshuvah. When doing teshuvah, one needs to enter into deeper places in himself, in his\her heart. The normal feelings and emotions which we experience during the rest of the year are not our innermost feelings we reach when doing teshuvah.

Teshuvah is supposed to make us think and reflect, and to feel deeper places in ourselves, and from there, we come to feel true regret for any wrongdoings we have done and to make earnest resolutions to improve in the coming year and be better. The normal emotions which we have during the rest of the year are not the same emotions which enter us into teshuvah on Yom Kippur. The day of Yom Kippur reveals to us a more inner and hidden place in ourselves.

Preparing Ourselves On Erev Yom Kippur

It is recommended that on Erev Yom Kippur, one should sit with herself and prepare herself to enter into a deeper place of herself. If one makes this preparation, she will find it easier on Yom Kippur to reach this deeper place in herself; to reach deeper and truer feelings in herself. This is the deep place in ourselves where we can experience הצנע לכת עם אלוקיך.

Thus,הצנע לכת עם אלוקיך, the concept of tzniyus\modesty, includes both external and internal modesty. The external aspect of modesty is to be dressed appropriately, but even more so, it includes being modest about ourselves: not to praise ourselves to others, so that we keep a low profile. Yet even this is still within the external aspect of tzniyus; it is not yet the inner essence of tzniyus.

Tzniyus In The 21st Century

In our generation, we can see that the main emphasis of tzniyus today is being placed on the external aspects of tzniyus, such as how to dress appropriately, etc. Something is greatly missing from the tzniyus in today’s times, and it is because the essence behind tzniyus is usually missing.

We are often grappling with the external issues of tzniyus [appropriate dress and etc.], but these are just the results of a deeper issue. Sometimes we succeed in strengthening the external aspects of tzniyus and sometimes we are less successful. But what we really need is to build our power of tzniyus from its inner root that it is based on: “Walk secretly with your G-d.”

Finding The Essence of Tzniyus In Ourselves – On Yom Kippur

It is written, “And I will dwell amongst them,” and Chazal teach that this verse means that Hashem dwells in each person’s heart. That means that each and every Jew contains in the depths of his\her a hidden place which he can enter, where the Shechinah resides and he can feel a deep closeness with Hashem. That place in our heart is where we are meant to enter on Yom Kippur.

Practically speaking, as we daven to Hashem on Yom Kippur, we need to try to enter into a deeper place in ourselves. We should do so calmly and slowly, and not try to strain ourselves to get there. But we should try to get there and concentrate on this, slowly and calmly: to reach a deeper place in ourselves, to feel a clearer perception of truths, to reach truer and purer feelings there.

Through the teshuvah of Yom Kippur that enables us to be purified by Hashem, we can feel deeper feelings on Yom Kippur than the rest of the year, where we enter into the hidden place in ourselves of “Walk secretly with your G-d.” This hidden place in ourselves is where we can truly feel that we are “with” Hashem.

In Conclusion

So let us remember, that the external aspect of tzniyus, of how we must appear and dress, is but one part of our avodah in tzniyus. Along with it we must awaken in ourselves, for just a few moments, a truer and purer feeling for tzniyus. The time to work on this is especially Yom Kippur, where we have a special opportunity to awaken in ourselves to attain a slightly deeper and truer feeling, towards tzniyus.

We have seen, with siyata d’shmaya, briefly, the five parts of teshuvah.

As mentioned in the beginning, one cannot try to work on all of these ideas at once. That will be too difficult. One should instead choose to focus on one of these paths to teshuvah, and those who merit it can work on two of the paths. Choose one of these five paths, the one that you feel speaks to you, the one that is closest to your heart.

With some people, a certain path will feel close to home, and other paths will not. With others, a different path is the one that feels closer, and not the others. Each person is different when it comes to this, because not all souls are equal. Therefore, sometimes a person will hear a certain path and it will speak to him very much, whereas another person will connect with it less.

So, sit down after this and reflect: Which one of these five paths mentioned is the one that speaks to you the most? Which is the closest one for you to work on?

All of these paths are based on the words of our Sages. I emphasize that they are the words of the Sages, and they are not my own. This idea that the word “teshuvah” stands for these five verses is a concept mentioned in many of the words of our Sages. Choose at least one of these five paths to teshuvah to work on, at least during these last few days of teshuvah leading up to Yom Kippur. And surely on Yom Kippur itself, you should try to touch upon one of these paths of teshuvah.

These days of teshuvah are not just days to daven more. We need to aim to make some kind of small change for the better, to be able to live a bit more spiritually. This change, when worked upon, will have a positive effect on you for the rest of the year as well.

May Hashem let us merit together, with siyata d’shmaya, to become elevated, to grow, each person on his own level, according to his or her own soul. May we merit to grow more and more, to merit to improve, even a little bit more improved, in the coming year.

If one merits to become even more improved, that is wonderful, but even for those who don’t, the least we can each aim for is to grow just a little bit more. This little bit of improvement can enable us to ask Hashem for another year of life, that it should at least be more elevated and more spiritual than the year before.

May we all merit, together, to be sealed in the sefer of the tzaddikim, all of Klal Yisrael, for a gmar chasimah tovah.

[1] יום כיפור 028 – ת-ש-ו-ב-ה

[2] This is said in the name of the Baal HaTanya (Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi) and Reb Zusha of Anipoli

[3] Editor’s Note: It is well-known that the Jewish woman is compared to the moon, which experiences cycles of renewal. It seems that the Rav is drawing a correlation, that just as the moon is more modest on Rosh HaShanah by being covered over, so is the avodah of a Jewish woman to become more modest, with the beginning of Rosh HaShanah.

Yom Kippur – Disconnecting from Sin

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of other Drashos on Yom Kippur

A Day of Soul With No Body

It is written, “For on this day you shall be forgiven and be purified.” Yom Kippur is the time of purity, in which Hashem purifies the Jewish people. The words of Rabbi Akiva are well-known: “Praiseworthy are the Jewish people – before Whom are they purified, and Who purifies them? Just as a mikveh purifies those who are impure, so does Hashem purify the Jewish people.”

Let us think of how our purification process is compared to that of a mikveh. In the sefarim hakedoshim, it is brought that one should immerse in a cold mikveh, because the words “mayim karim” (cold water) has the same gematria (numerical value in Hebrew letters) as the word “meis” – “corpse.” In other words, when a person immerses in a cold mikveh, he is considered to be like a dead person.

What is the gain in being considered like a dead person? Hashem doesn’t want us to die – He wants us to live. A dead person cannot serve Him and do mitzvos. So what is the gain in being considered like “dead” when one goes to a cold mikveh?

There are many meanings behind this concept, but we will focus on just one point, with the help of Hashem.

What, indeed, is death? When a person dies, does he stop existing? We all know: of course not. We are made up of a body and a soul; by death, the soul leaves the body, the body is buried and the soul rises to Heaven. So the whole concept of death is that the soul leaves the body.

If we think about it, this is what Yom Kippur is all about. We have a mitzvah on this day to fast, and our body is denied certain pleasures. We have to be like angels on this day – souls without a body. Only our body suffers from this, though – not our soul. The soul actually receives greater vitality on Yom Kippur (as the Arizal writes). Normally, we need to eat and drink physically in order to be alive, but on Yom Kippur, we receive vitality from above, and thus we do not need physical food or drink.

The Arizal would stay up all night on Yom Kippur. Simply speaking, this was because he didn’t want to take a chance of becoming impure at night (from nocturnal emissions). But the deeper reason behind his conduct was because Yom Kippur is a day in which we are angelic, and we don’t need sleep. Yom Kippur is a day of soul with no body.

On every Yom Tov, there is a mitzvah to eat. Although Yom Kippur is also a Yom Tov, we don’t eat, because it is a day of soul with no body. It is the only day of the year in which we live through our soul and not through our body. The rest of the Yomim Tovim involve mitzvos that have to do with our body.

It is also the only day of the year in which we resemble the dead. We wear white, and there are two reasons for this: the inner reason is because we are resembling the angels, and the external reason is because we want to remind ourselves of death, who are clothed in white shrouds. The truth is that these are not two separate reasons – they are really one and the same: a dead person is a soul with no body, just like an angel.

Let us stress the fact that we do not mean to remind ourselves of death in order to scare ourselves. Although there is a concept of holy fear, that is not our mission on Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is actually scarier than Yom Kippur, because it is the day of judgment. The point of reminding ourselves of death on Yom Kippur is, because Yom Kippur is a day in which one is a soul without a body – resembling an angel.

The Purity Available Only On Yom Kippur

That is the clear definition of Yom Kippur, and now we must think into what our actual avodah is on this day. We mentioned before the custom to immerse in a cold mikveh before Yom Kippur. It seems that this is because when we immerse in cold water, we are considered dead, and thus we are purified. But on a deeper note, the death which a person must accept when he immerses in the mikveh is so that he can realize that he is really a soul, without a body. Hashem purifies us on Yom Kippur – when we consider ourselves to be like a soul with no body.

Our purity does not happen on Rosh Hashanah or on Sukkos. It does not happen on Pesach or on any other Yom Tov. We are purified only on Yom Kippur – the time in which we are a soul without a body.

The Lesson We Learn from Yom Kippur For The Rest of the Year
Read more Yom Kippur – Disconnecting from Sin

The Four Foundational Spiritual Practices of the Ramchal

I’ve had the good fortune to learn Mesillas Yesharim in depth with a chavrusa for close to twenty years. During that time, I found it helpful to summarize the important ideas in the sefer to make it easier to review the principles on a regular basis, as the Ramchal recommends. I highly recommend that you sign up for Hachzek (https://hachzek.com/), an organization that has recently started a Daily Mussar Impact program with a daily learning of the Mesillas Yesharim.

This year I was able to distill the Mesillas Yesharim to four foundational practices which have helped me internalize and actively use the main ideas of the sefer. Since Rosh HaShanah is a great time to work on developing our souls, this quick summary of the four foundational practices of the Ramchal might be helpful.

The first practice is to direct your thinking to the two main spiritual goals of developing a deeper relationship with G-d and with people. Thinking about these goals and whether your daily actions are in line with them will make your day-to-day living more meaningful. If we don’t regularly think about these goals, then the distractions of daily living will prevent us from making any real spiritual progress.

The second practice is to generate the positive emotions of love of G-d and love of people. We generate love by identifying and focusing on the positive traits of G-d and the people in our lives. Since happiness results from feeling connected, the more we love, the happier we will be. If we don’t actively fill our emotional needs with love-based happiness, then we’ll probably fill them with alternatives like news, politics, sports, entertainment and technology.

The third practice is to elevate your everyday actions by doing them with thought and positive emotions. This adds a spiritual dimension to our actions which increases our pleasure from life. If we don’t proactively elevate our actions with thought and emotion, then we’ll often be reacting to physical pleasures that appeal to our desires.

The fourth practice is to serve G-d by learning and observing His teachings and to serve people by identifying and addressing their needs. Serving G-d and serving people is the cornerstone of living with spiritual purpose. If we don’t focus on serving others, then we’ll continue with our inborn self-centered perspective which is the primary obstacle to a flourishing spiritual life.

The four practices map to Mesillas Yesharim as follows: directing our thinking (zehirus/watchfulness), generating positive emotions (zerizus/zealousness), elevating our actions (nekiyas/cleanliness) and serving Hashem and others (chassidus/saintliness). These practices help us overcome the spiritual impediments of distraction, boredom, desire and self-centeredness. The result is a fulfilling spiritual life filled with meaning, happiness, pleasure and purpose.

May our commitment to developing our souls earn us the merit to be inscribed in the “Book of Life” this Rosh HaShanah.

The Challenge of Elul for “Former Teshuva Masters”

By Micheal Sedley

Elul is upon us and collectively the Observant community is getting into Tshuva Mode.

Beyond BT poses an interesting question which I think applies to many people who are Ba’al Tshuva, or have moved in the level of observance over a period of years:

When I first became a BT, Teshuva was so easy. Over the course of 2 years, I was keeping Shabbos, Kosher, Davening regularly and performing all the seasonal mitzvos.

After 8 years it has become a lot harder to do Teshuva, even at this time of year. When I look over the last year, the changes are much smaller and were much more difficult to make.

Have other people experienced this change in Teshuva?

Are there a different set of tactics and goals at this later stage?

Is there anything special about the Teshuva of a BT at this point or am I now fighting the same battles that a FFB faces?

“Former Teshuva Master”

I think in a nutshell the problem is that the focus of one’s tshuva must change, and the new focus is often more difficult.

Many people going through a transition towards more observance have a list of things that they know deep down they should be doing but aren’t yet. This list may even be subconscious, but come Rosh Hashana time it’s relatively easy to find the item on the top of the list and commit oneself. If last year I didn’t daven, than this year I’ll start davening. If I’m already davening, maybe I’ll increase the Tfilllot I say each day, or attend minyan each day, or be more careful with kashrut, or Brachot, or some other easy-to-identify Halachic obligation.

This type of Tshuva is relatively easy, and it’s a wonderful feeling to look back over the past year and say “two years ago I ate traif, last year I stopped eating non-kosher meat, this year I’ll be 100% kosher”.

The problem is that eventually you find that you’re living a complete halachic lifestyle – there is nothing quick and easy on the top of the list. Sure you could improve your kavana during davenng or cut down on Bitul Zman or Lashon Harah, but these things are hard to quantify, they aren’t the sort of thing that you can put a check mark next to on your list. I think that this is one of the reasons that suddenly a “Former Teshuva Master” can find it very difficult to have a meaningful Elul.

To make matters even more difficult, this question is seldom addressed directly. In Yeshiva whenever there was a talk on Tshuva they always used a simple example like “lets say someone wants a cheeseburger and stops himself, that’s tshuva” – the problem is that most tshuva is not so easy to qualify, and besides I’ve never had a cheeseburger in my life, and don’t have a particular ta’ava for one, so the metaphor really doesn’t talk to me.

Anyway, the article from Beyond BT got me thinking, and I tried to put together a list of things that I really can work on. I probably wont achieve all of these improvements this Elul, it is possible that I wont achieve any of them, but at least if I have a list it’ll be a place to start on this year’s tshuva adventure.

These items are just off the top of my head, if you have suggestions, feel free to leave a comment. Bli Neder over the next 40 days (until Yom Kippur) I’ll review this list, maybe modify it, maybe just think about it, but hopefully this will help give me some direction to move in during Elul, and maybe – just maybe, after Yom Kippur I’ll have at least one measurable improvement in my life.

* I’ll make a conscious effort to appreciate my wife more, especially her non-stop effort to keep the household running smoothly. I’ll identify additional ways that I can help around the house and show additional support for my wife both physically and emotionally.

* I’ll make a conscious effort to spend more time with each of my kids. They all need time with their father on a daily basis and I’ll try to make sure that spending time with them is part of my daily or weekly routine. This could include learning Gemara with my oldest, or practicing reading with the girls (each at their own level), or maybe riding a bike or playing a board game with them – each of them.

* I’ll work on anger, especially with my kids. It is very easy to loose patience with your own kids, but I’ll try to never raise my voice to them and to treat them at least as well as I would the kids of a neighbor (I can’t imagine myself yelling at someone else’s kids).

* I’ll try to use all my time as constructively as possible. When I’m working I should be 100% at work, when I’m with the kids I should be 100% with the kids, when I’m in a shiur I should be 100% at the shiur.

* I’ll slow down with my Brachot, especially Birkat Hamazon. Does mumbling and skipping words in Birkat Hamazon really show my appreciation for the food that I just ate? Is it really so difficult to make sure that I say ALL of the words?

* I’ll try to start off my day by being ON TIME for shul – how difficult should it be to get to shul a few minutes before it starts to put on Tfillin, recite Korbanot, and maybe even look at Parsha Shavua?

Have a great Elul!

Originally posted in August 2008 here.

Parshas Ki Teitzei- Maintain Your Advantage This Elul

This week’s parsha includes the commandment of זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֧ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֛ה יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לְמִרְיָ֑ם בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵֽאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם Remember what Hashem your G-d did to Miriam on the way out of Mitzrayim. This mitzvah, which references the sin of Miriam when she spoke lashon hara about Moshe which resulted in her punishment of tzaras, is among the seven that we are obligated to remember every day. There are scores of lessons to be learned from this mitzvah as laid out by nearly all of the major meforshim. The Chofetz Chaim speaks about it at length in both the Sefer Chofetz Chaim and the Sefer Shmiras Halashon in addition to an entire sefer dedicated to it known as the Kuntres Zachor LeMiriam.

It’s difficult to choose which of the hundreds of ideas to focus on, but there is a nuance that the Chasam Sofer points out that is highly relevant to Elul. The Chasam Sofer references the gemara in Sotah (9b) which explains מִרְיָם הִמְתִּינָה לְמֹשֶׁה שָׁעָה אַחַת שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וַתֵּתַצַּב אֲחוֹתוֹ מֵרָחוֹק לְפִיכָךְ נִתְעַכְּבוּ לָהּ יִשְׂרָאֵל שִׁבְעָה יָמִים בַּמִּדְבָּר שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וְהָעָם לֹא נָסַע עַד הֵאָסֵף מִרְיָם Miriam waited for Moshe one hour, as it says: And his sister stood from afar. Therefore the nation waited for her seven days in the desert, as it says: and the people did not travel until Miriam returned (from the quarantine that was imposed upon her as a result of the tzaras she suffered from in punishment for speaking about Moshe). This gemara teaches that Miriam was rewarded midda keneged midda for her chesed in waiting for Moshe when he was a baby.

The Chasam Sofer asks on this gemara. He explains that there are two ways in which we can look at what Miriam was doing when she was watching Moshe. The first way is to view her as if she was simply a sister watching her brother to see what happens to him in a dangerous situation. The second way is to understand that Miriam had prophecy and therefore knew that Moshe was destined to become the leader and redeemer of Klal Yisrael. As such, her intention in watching him was because she wanted to see if there was something she could do “to assist” Hashem’s chosen leader. This second possibility is clearly on a much higher level as it would have been carried out not simply because of the love of a sister for her brother but lekavod shamayim. The Chasam Sofer points out that we are commanded to give others the benefit of the doubt and, therefore, we would have to say that Miriam watched Moshe for the second, more holy reason. However, that is not the case. We see from the fact that Miriam was rewarded in this world, by having Klal Yisrael wait for her, that Hashem viewed her as waiting for Moshe on the lower, albeit still very lofty level, — as a sister might. Because if she was waiting for Moshe on the higher level, her reward would have been so much greater that it would have been reserved for the next world.

In addition to our obligation to judge favorably, the gemara in Shabbos (127b) tells us: הַדָּן חֲבֵירוֹ לְכַף זְכוּת — דָּנִין אוֹתוֹ לִזְכוּת Everyone who judges his friend favorably, he himself is judged favorably. That means that Hashem also judges favorably. So why was it that Miriam was not judged favorably? The Chasam Sofer answers his question as follows. Miriam made a presumption relating to how Moshe was acting vis-a-vis his wife, and she did not give Moshe the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, because she did not give Moshe the benefit of the doubt, she was not given the benefit of the doubt by Hashem. The converse of the gemara is true: anyone who does not judge his friend favorably, is not judged favorably by Hashem. The Chasam Sofer concludes: וזהוּ מוּסר למספּרי לה״ר This is the lesson to those who speak Lashon Hara.

All throughout Elul and the Aseres Yemei Teshuva, we are seeking rachamim from Hashem. We’re asking Him to give us the benefit of the doubt, even when He knows our exact intentions were sometimes less than stellar. And this is something that Hashem actually “wants” to do. However, if, during this same time period, we are not judging others favorably, we are forfeiting the right to ask Hashem to judge us favorably. There are halachos that determine when we must give someone the benefit of the doubt and when we do not need to. During these special days when we want Hashem to tip the scales toward our benefit even when we really don’t “deserve it”, we should be granting others the benefit of the doubt lefnim meshuras hadin.

The Takeaway:
Miriam was not given the benefit of the doubt by Hashem because she did not give Moshe the benefit of the doubt. Hashem judges us in the way that we judge others. When we are asking Hashem to overlook our flaws and see what’s good and focus on the potential within us, we must do the same for others or lose that opportunity ourselves.

This Week:
Assume good intentions on the part of those around you. When something occurs and you have the impetus to create a story about why someone did something, create a story that is positive and gives the other person the benefit of the doubt.

Eric Bruntlett’s Elul

By CJ Srullowitz (http://luleidemistafina.blogspot.com)

One of the joys of being an “ex-pat” Phillies fan, living in New York, is that I can watch my team’s games over the internet. This sure beats the good ol’ days when, in order to listen to my favorite team play, I had to drive around the county in my car, with the radio set to 1210 on the AM dial, until I found a spot that picked up, all the way from Eastern Pennsylvania, a somewhat static-free signal.

Nonetheless, when the Phillies come to New York, I am, ironically, left without video coverage of the game. You see, the way it works is that the local cable companies pay enormous sums of money to reserve all broadcast rights within a team’s market. So if you want to watch a game, in New York, featuring the Mets or the Yankees you first need to buy a cable television packages. In each market, Major League Baseball “blacks out” the local games from its internet service. So when the Phillies play the Yankees or Mets, I’m in a bind. It’s either the radio or Kosher Delight.

Such was the case today as I drove back from getting a tooth filled at my dentist’s office in Queens. The Phils were getting ready to take the field against the Mets at their brand-new home, Citi Field, just as I was driving past, my lower left jaw still numb from novacaine. I debated turning off the Grand Central Parkway and heading for the stadium parking lot to look for a last-minute ticket. But with more important things to do with my afternoon than invest three hours in a ballgame, I did the sensible thing and headed home, trying to convince myself that radio broadcasts are as good as the real thing.

The game appeared over as soon as it started. The Phillies hit two three-run homers in the first inning. But the Mets, down by six runs twice in the game, started to chip away at the Phillies lead. By the ninth, the Phillies were still in front, 9-6, but the momentum had begun to shift toward the Mets.

At this point my computer—through which I was listening to the game—informed me that the blackout had been removed for the bottom of the ninth inning, and the video feed commenced. This was great only briefly, as the first Mets hitter wound up on third, on a three-base error by the Phillies’ first baseman. That play, coupled with an unreliable Brad Lidge and his 7.05 earned run average, on the mound for the Phils, made the phaithful understandably edgy.

That unease gave way to unbridled nail-biting after second baseman Eric Bruntlett muffed the next two plays—the first, scored an error; the second, charitably, a hit. Why was Bruntlett even in the game? Where was Chase Utley, the Phillies’ perennial All-Star, and unofficial leader? He was being given—he never takes—a day off. Bruntlett, hitting .128 for the year, numbers that do not befit someone competing on a championship team, was subbing.

All of a sudden, it was deja vu all over again for the Phillies: holding a slight lead, the tying runs on base, the winning run at the plate, and nobody out—all being protected by Brad Lidge, who was carrying the weight of eight blown saves on his shoulders. We phans have been here before, we’ve seen this picture, and it doesn’t always end pretty.

And then it did.

The next hitter, Jeff Francoeur hit a bullet up the middle. Bruntlett, moving to his right, jumped up, caught the ball and landed on second base, doubling up Luis Castillo, who had been running to third on the pitch. Bruntlett then engaged in an awkward two-step with Dan Murphy, who was just arriving at second base, before tagging him on the letters. And just like that, the game was over. Phillies win.

An unassisted triple play!

I had never seen one before. Not surprising since this was only the fifteenth time in Major League history that one had ocurred. It is the rarest feat in baseball.

Eric Bruntlett, who had been responsible for allowing the two runners to reach base safely to begin with; who was on the verge of being the goat of the game; who because of his awful hitting this year might have been cut from the team if they had gone on to lose this game, emerges as the hero and will have his name in the record books. He was in the right place at the right time and reacted decisively.

Life, like baseball, has many twists and turns—some of them sudden. Elul is a time when we all are asked to come to terms with our behavior throughout the year. Perhaps we are hitting a spiritual .128 for the season. Perhaps we made a couple of errors over the summer. Perhaps we are on the verge of blowing the Big Game.

Now we are in the right place at the right time. We, too, must react decisively. Eric Bruntlett reminds us: “Yeish shekoneh olamo besha’a achas”—it’s never too late to turn it around. Redemption can come more quickly than you ever imagined possible.

Originally Published September 2009

Teshuvah: Returning to Our Source

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Talks on Elul

Teshuvah – Returning To Hashem Through Abandoning Past Sins

“השיבנו אבינו לתורתך” – “Return us, our Father, to Your Torah.”

When a person sins, (rachmana litzlan – May Hashem have mercy upon him), there are three aspects of teshuvah that he needs, as we say in this blessing of Shemoneh Esrei. Besides for the fact that he has sinned against Hashem, he has also distanced himself from the Torah.

Thus, when we seek to do teshuvah, not only do we ask Hashem to return us to Him, but we also ask to be returned to the Torah, that we should once again keep the Torah. The final step of the teshuvah is when we merit a “complete teshuvah” –החזירנו בתשובה שלימה לפניך.

So first, we ask Hashem to return us to the state in which we recognize Him as our Father. השיבנו אבינו. Then, we ask Hashem that we be returned to His Torah.השיבנו אבינו לתורתך. We can then merit to come to a “complete” teshuvah, which this blessing of Shemoneh Esrei concludes with – החזירנו בתשובה שלימה לפניך.

Teshuvah is to return. To where are we returning to? To Hashem.

Returning To The Proper Path In Life – To Abandon The Indulgence In Permissible Desires

On a more subtle note, even if we wouldn’t sin, we still need to do teshuvah, because even if a person doesn’t sin, he can still be far from Hashem. The essence of teshuvah is to return to our Source, even if we haven’t sinned. This is because a person can still be distanced from Hashem even if he doesn’t sin.

For example, there is a concept of “a disgusting one who acts within the permission of the Torah.”[1] When a person lives for his body and not for his soul, he indulges in physical pleasures that are not prohibited by the Torah. Although he hasn’t sinned, he has indulged in his body, and he needs to abandon this situation – as well and return to his source, his soul’s source, which is Hashem and the Torah.

When a person sins, the sin puts constraint on his connection with Hashem; that is very clear. But even if a person doesn’t sin, and even if he has done teshuvah over the sin, he can still be heavily attached to materialism, and this will prevent a person from connecting himself to Hashem.

Living A Life of The Soul

Rabbeinu Yonah in sefer Shaarei Teshuvah writes that a person needs to to abandon his improper path, in order to do teshuvah. This can even be referring to a kind of person who lives religiously, but his soul is not revealed in his life. He does not feel his soul, and instead he lives life through his body. Although he puts on his tallis and tefillin in the morning, it’s only on his body, because he lives and experiences life entirely through his body.

Teshuvah is not just about leaving our sins; it is about abandoning the very path a person is at [initially] in his life, which is heading towards materialism.

The Root of A Life of Soul: Realizing That Hashem Is Our Father

השיבנו אבינו לתורתך וקרבנו מלכינו לעבודתך – “Return us, our Father, to Your Torah; and draw us close, our King, to serve You.” After we return to keeping the Torah, we can return to serving Hashem. But the very first thing we need to realize that Hashem is our Father – and that we are His children. The blessing starts out with the words השיבנו אבינו – “Return us, our Father.” That is the first thing we need to realize: Hashem is “our Father”.

If a person doesn’t realize this, he is saying words that aren’t truthful to where he is right now; his mouth and heart are not in line with each other. Although Chazal established that we all say this tefillah in Shemoneh Esrei, if a person doesn’t realize the truth of what he is saying, from a deeper perspective he is saying something that’s not true to his life.

Getting In Touch With Your Inner Soul’s Desires

So a person must ask himself how much he is in touch with his soul in his life. How can one recognize it? Our soul loves spirituality – such as Torah, mitzvos, and connecting with Hashem. By contrast, our body loves This World and its desires.

For example, let us examine the emotion of love which we are familiar with. What do we love? Is our love only being experienced through our physical desires? Desire [by itself] is not the same thing as love. On another note, if we “love” something of This World, that’s not “love” – it is simply desire.

Teshuvah – Repenting and Returning

The first part of teshuvah, simply, is to repent from our sins. That is the obvious part. But in addition, we need to uncover the deeper aspect of teshuvah, which is that we must realize that we are returning to our Source: our Father.

Ask yourself the following: If we would be given more life on this world, would we stay here so we can do more mitzvos? Or we would we want to stay here so we can continue to enjoy this world’s pleasures…?

Teshuvah is a deep power in our soul, to wish to return, to our point of origin. When a person learns Torah and does mitzvos, he can still be living a life of the body…. even if he still sits in yeshivah for many years and always learns Torah every day!

The deep aspect of teshuvah is to realize that we are children of Hashem, that we are a neshamah (Divine soul). And just as the body enjoys the pleasures of this world, so does our neshamah yearn for Hashem, for Torah, and for mitzvos.

Our Avodah: Revealing Our Neshamah

But we do not need to “acquire” an enjoyment for Hashem and for Torah; it is already there in our soul! The problem is that the soul isn’t often revealed, because the body is initially dominant on a person, and it is concealing the soul.

Therefore, our avodah is thus not to acquire our spiritual feelings. Rather, our avodah is to reveal our neshamah, from its potential state into its active state – and then we will naturally love Hashem and Torah, as an automatic result.

Yearning To Live A Life of Neshamah

People who are able to sit and learn their whole life and to love learning Torah are able to do so not because they always have the answers to all their questions when they learn. It is rather because they have succeeded in uncovering their natural yearning for Hashem and for his Torah.

Therefore, we must be aware when we do teshuvah, that we need to return to our original Source, the way we were originally, when we were pure. To illustrate, a child cries when he is looking for his home. Why does he cry? It is because he yearns to return to his home, to his source.

If a person lives life through his body, even if he learns Torah and does mitzvos, he lives an animalistic kind of existence. One must reveal the light of the neshamah in his life.

That is all part of the teshuvah process that one needs to do, in addition to how he needs to abandon sin. If a person doesn’t have a constant yearning to return to his soul, if he doesn’t feel a burning kind of desire of his soul to return to Torah and to do Hashem’s will – then he has to do teshuvah exactly about this problem!

One needs to yearn to return to an inner kind of life in which he recognizes that his soul is his true source, wishing that he could return to his original state of purity.

The Main Kind of Teshuvah That Is Needed In Our Times

Most people in today’s world are not entrenched in sin – rather, the main problem we see today is that people are simply entrenched in a “body” kind of life.

Teshuvah is not about learning “more” Torah and “doing” mitzvos. It is about living a life of neshamah. It is that when we go to sleep at night, our neshamah continues to yearn for more closeness with Hashem and with Torah. It is that when we get up in the morning, we feel this yearning of our neshamah, and that we continue to feel this yearning even as we walk in the street.

Therefore, besides for doing teshuvah for our past sins, an essential part of our teshuvah is that we need to search for an inner kind of life, in which we feel ourselves yearning to return to our original purity.

Do any of us want next year to the same as this year? If we want next year to really be different than this past year, we must have a constant yearning every day and all the time to live a life of yearning for Hashem, for Torah, and for mitzvos.

Letting Go Of This World

To help give yourself an idea of how you can work on this, each of us should imagine what the day of death will look like, when our soul will leave our body.

If we always think about this – in a serene way of course, and not to be sad or morbid about it – we can begin to feel that our body is not who we are. We will then be able to feel that our real self is our neshamah. One day, we will leave our body. Thinking about this will help you realize the inner world that is going on inside of you.[2]

We must realize that the kind of world we see in front of us – even though there is much Torah and mitzvos today – is a lifestyle that is centered around interests of the body. We need to uncover the perspective of our neshamah and experience life through it. Of course, this will involve a lot of avodah to get there, but this is the root that we can uncover and be in touch with.

In Conclusion

May we merit from Hashem to understand that there is a kind of inner life we can live, in which we can return to our Source – to merit to return to our Father, and thereby come to have complete teshuvah.

[1] See Ramban to Parshas Kedoshim 19:1

[2] For more details, see Bilvavi Part 4, Chapter 5 – Calmly Letting Go Of This World

The Importance of Developing Emotional Connections

The Need For Emotional Connection
The Mesillas Yesharim teaches us that the basis of our Service of Hashem, is Deutoronomy 10:12 in Parshas Eikev: “And now, Israel, what does Hashem, your God, ask of you?
– Only to fear (be in awe of) Hashem, your God,
– to go in all His ways,
– and to love Him,
– and to serve Hashem, your God, with all your heart and all your soul,
– to observe the commandments of Hashem and His decrees, which I command you today, for your benefit.

We are quite good at observing the commandments, but many of us have trouble with the emotional component, specifically that of loving Hashem. We know we are supposed to love Hashem, but do we actually experience that love emotionally?

Without a strong emotional connection to Hashem and Torah, our mitzvos become rote, our davening becomes rushed, and we look to our possessions, our vacations, our vocations, and the worlds of sports, entertainment, and social media for emotional stimulation. It’s very likely that the spiritual malaise effecting large segments of our community is a result of a lack of a strong emotional connection to Hashem and Torah.

How Can We Develop Love
Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner zt”l taught that to develop our Love of Hashem, we should work on Loving Our Fellow Jew, which is a commandment in its own right.

Love means to have a strong emotional connection. Most people have a strong emotional connection with their spouses, their children and their parents. But when we walk into Shul, with how many people do we actually feel a strong emotional connection?

To develop our love of our fellow Jews, we have to identify and relate to their positive qualities. One such quality is that at the root of every Jew is a pure spiritual soul. Every Jew is part of the collective soul of the Jewish people which unites us all. Every Jew is a child of Hashem and is loved by Hashem. Every Jew in our community places a part in creating an environment where we can grow through Torah and Mitzvos. And every Jew in our minyan, is instrumental in increasing the likelihood that Hashem will accept our Tefillos. We’ve identified a few positive qualities that give us the ammunition to develop our love.

Having identified the positive qualities, we have to actively and repeatedly think about that we love our fellow Jews because of their qualities. Thinking that we love someone is instrumental in actually developing that love. We shouldn’t be sidetrack by the fact that we love our spouses, children and parents more then our Shul members. We are obligated to love every Jew and each Jew has inherent positive qualities that form the foundation of love.

Actively thinking about our love of our fellow Jews is critical to developing that emotional capacity – and using it to love Hashem. So on a regular basis we can look around our Shul, and think about how we love this person, and that person, etc..

Loving Hashem
When we develop the practice of experiencing emotional love on a regular basis, we can then use that capability to Love Hashem. Our prayer books are filled with praise of the positive qualities of Hashem which give us many reasons to love Him. We have to actively think about how we love Hashem. It’s not enough to know it intellectually, we have to develop that love, by regularly thinking how we love Hashem.

It’s interesting that Chazal have put a special focus in the Three Weeks on developing a Love of our Fellow Jews. This is followed by the month of Elul, where we focus on Love of Hashem as indicated by ‘Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li’ – ‘I am for My Beloved and My Beloved is for Me’. Loving people and loving Hashem are commandments that are achievable. We can start on the right track every day in Shul with thoughts of Love. Don’t worry, nobody will know, but don’t be surprised if we start feeling them loving us back.

How Do You Feel Sad About Something You Never Saw? (Bilvavi)

Rav Itamar Schwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Get a PDF of Three Weeks Talks

How Do You Feel Sad About Something You Never Saw?

Our avodah during the Nine Days involves certain actions we do, which eventually lead up to the day of Tisha B’Av – the very climax of our pain. There are outer actions we have to do according to halachah, but there is also an inner work to be done.

It is hard for us to imagine what it was like when we had a Beis HaMikdash. It is very far from our mind to comprehend, and it is hard as well even to imagine it. We are thus very far from feeling the pain of the destruction. How can we feel pain over something which we never saw, something which we can’t even really imagine?

The avodah we have during the Nine Days is about feeling the pain [over the loss of the Beis HaMikdash and what we used to have, before we were placed into exile]. Pain involves our deep emotions. Thus, we need to try to awaken ourselves to cry about what happened during these days. But it is very difficult for many people to do so. People read the stories and the history of what happened during those times, yet it is still very hard for people to actually feel pain and to cry over the tragic period of our history.

We need to find a way to open ourselves up, so that we can feel the depth of the pain of the destruction. We will try here, with the help of Hashem, to draw these matters closer to our hearts, so we can come to feel the pain that we are supposed to feel; to feel how the Shechinah is in exile.

The Superficial Way To Feel Pain

There are two ways how a person can try to draw himself close to mourning over the destruction. One of them is not that effective, while the other way is more effective.

One way (mentioned above) is for a person to awaken himself, in a superficial manner, to get inspired. This can be done by reading the statements of Chazal about the destruction. For most people, however, this doesn’t work, because it is hard to actually feel the pain of the destruction just by reading about the tragedies that went on. A person reads on and on about the many tragedies that Chazal say took place, yet he still doesn’t feel that it has to do with him, and it doesn’t get him to cry.

The Inner Way To Awaken Pain Over the Destruction

An alternative way, which is the way that will help us, is to awaken from within ourselves an internal kind of crying. Then we will be able to actually cry on our outside as well.

This is not accomplished through the usual inspiration that comes from outside of ourselves. We will explain.

All the maalos (qualities) which the soul can attain – such as yiras shomayim (fear of Heaven), kedushah (holiness), taharah (purity), etc. – are all desires of our soul to gain more and more levels in ruchniyus (spirituality). This is the universal desire of the Jewish people: to grow in our ruchniyus. But we must understand that inspiration alone will not suffice in order to accomplish this.

When the Beis Hamikdash was around, there was the Shechinah (Hashem’s revealed Presence), and this enabled people to reach very high levels in their ruchniyus. The great spiritual light that existed then affected all people, even the simplest Jew. The Vilna Gaon writes that we have no comprehension of even the simplest Jew of those times.

If anyone thinks about this – not just intellectually, but as an internalization – he would really see what we are missing today. The desires that we have to grow in ruchniyus, and the frustrations that we each have in trying to grow, would not have existed had we lived in the times of the Beis Hamikdash! It was so much easier to serve Hashem then! If we think about this and what this means for us, we would realize the true depth of the destruction.

All of our frustrations, and all of our various failures, are all a result of exile. Because we don’t have the Shechinah, it is so much harder for us to serve Hashem. We have yearnings to serve Hashem, we really want to grow in Torah and mitzvos, and in all areas of our ruchniyus – but we have so much frustration in trying to succeed. This is all because we don’t have the Shechinah.

If this doesn’t bother a person, that’s a different problem altogether. We are talking about someone who does realize it’s a problem. If a person realizes what he’s missing, he should go deeper into this reflection and what it means: If I would have the Beis Hamikdash in my life, I wouldn’t have so many problems in my ruchniyus.

If a person thinks about this, he will be able to awaken the pain that he is supposed to have over the destruction. There is a lot to think about here: how far we are in our ruchniyus. How far we are from Torah, from Tefillah, from Ahavas Yisrael, from shemiras einayim, from taharah…and from all other areas we need to be better at.

Anyone who thinks about this – calmly, and in solitude (as the Chazon Ish writes to do) – will discover how painful this realization is, and this will bring a person to cry.

In Summary

The avodah during these days is to first contemplate this on at least an intellectual level, and then internalize it in our hearts: how much we are missing.

If we would have a Beis Hamikdash, our hearts would be different, our daas would be different, our middos would be different. Contemplate this, and you will realize how painful this discovery is. And if you merit, it might even bring you to tears.

This is how we can awaken ourselves to cry. Of course, this is not yet reaching the purpose of why we mourn. We are only saying how we can open ourselves up to feel the pain we are supposed to feel.

Most People Need This Approach

The true Tisha B’Av one is supposed to have is to feel the general painful situation of the Jewish people, but this is only reached by someone who has great Ahavas Yisrael. Most people, though, have not reached such a high level of Ahavas Yisrael, and therefore they find it hard to cry over the situation of our people today.

That being the case, practically speaking, most people will need to simply awaken from within themselves a personal reason to cry, such as by thinking about one’s personal frustrations in areas of ruchniyus.

We can only cry over the loss of the Shechinah if we have already drawn ourselves close to the Shechinah, but most people aren’t close to the Shechinah; therefore, it is hard for most people to relate to the concept of the “pain of the Shechinah.” Therefore, most people need to simply open themselves up to cry: by thinking about their own private suffering, by thinking about how much we are missing from our own life.

The Higher Stage: Contemplating Another’s Pain

Let us continue one step further, but first make sure that you are on the first level: first realize where you are in your ruchniyus. If your heart has been opened at least to this first level, you can continue to the next level we are about to say.

Think about the following. Who do you love on this world? Everyone has people whom they love on this world; who do you love the most on this world? Think about this, and now, think: Do you feel the pain of the person whom you love the most? Do you feel his physical pain? If you do, what about the things that bother him spiritually? Do you feel any pain, whatsoever, at his\her situation? If you do, now connect yourself to his\her pain. Then, think about the following? The pain that your beloved person has is all a result of the loss of the Shechinah on this world! This is because all of the pain in the world comes from the absence of Shechinah.

What If Someone Doesn’t Care About Ruchniyus?

In the first stage we explained, we explained how a person should try to awaken his spiritual pain and frustration, so that he can awaken himself to the pain and mourning over the loss of the Shechinah. But what if someone’s spiritual situation doesn’t bother him that much? What can he do to awaken himself to tears over the loss of the Shechinah, if he doesn’t care that much about his own ruchniyus in the first place?

He can at least think into his physical situation, and let himself be bothered by the things in his life that are not alright. Every person has things in his life that bother him. After all, who doesn’t have hardship and difficulty on this world? Thinking about this can help a person open himself up to the idea of feeling pain, and now that he has brought the pain to the surface, he can remind himself that all of this pain is because we are in exile, because we don’t have the Shechinah.

A person has to sit and think about these reflections during Tisha B’Av, so that he can open himself up to the idea of pain and mourning over the exile and the loss of the Shechinah. Besides for hearing Eichah and reciting Kinnos on Tisha B’Av, a person must make sure to actually make these reflections and awaken himself to feel some level of pain.

This self-introspection must be done privately. Simply think about what pains you in your life. Anyone is on the level of doing this. Then, after you remind yourself of the pain you have in your life, realize that all of your pain is rooted in the fact that we do not have a Beis Hamikdash, that we are missing the Shechinah. This will help you open yourself up to the concept of pain, and it will be a small opening for you to help you feel the real pain you are supposed to feel.

May we all merit to feel the pain of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, and to be of those whom our Sages say, “Whoever mourns Jerusalem, will merit to see it in its rebuilding.”

Eating Cookies at the Kosel on the 17th of Tammuz

Before I became frum, I lit Channukah candles (I miss my purple and gold yarmulke), I didn’t eat bread on Pesach (I was stringent–it had to be bread davka) and I fasted on Yom Kippur. Even in college I fasted the whole day, and as soon as the sun finally went down (behind the administration building), the pepperoni pizza was mine. I deserved it after a day of affliction. Little did I know that other days of affliction dotted the Jewish calendar, too.

Just a few weeks after I joined my friend in his BT yeshiva, it was the 17th of Tammuz. I was given a briefing (very brief), and was told it was a fast day. Being natually respectful (and too shy to protest), I went along with it and during the early afternoon, I found myself sitting by my dirah window overlooking the Kosel while my friend was “praying Minkah” in the yeshiva. My stomach started to rumble. There was no one around, and I did have a stash of wafers under my blanket for emergencies. I glanced at the Wall, then at my cookies, then at the Wall. Do I miss what had been in the airspace above that wall? Ok, whatever, but mourning takes energy, doesn’t it? After all, when I used to go to a shiva in America, there was tons of food there. Wall vs. wafers [rumble!]…the wafers won.
I hid the evidence and dusted off the fingerprints…I still remember how amazed my friend was that I fasted so well.

Just three weeks later, another fast day. I didn’t eat, but I did manage to sneak into a chair every once in a while. I certainly didn’t greet anyone (my shyness came in handy again.) It was more than a little frustrating as it was so new, even though the very basics in yeshiva gave me a general idea. The fact is that as the first few years went by, I felt like I was lacking certain connections in all the holidays and fast days.

One year, I went to hear Rav Shlomo Brevda talk about the three weeks. Like so many others, he acknowledged that it’s very hard to mourn something that we never had. But unlike so many others, he spent much time going into great vivid detail (as he does so well) about what life was like when there was a Beis HaMikdash. (I heard that there are tapes for kids with this theme, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve learned quite a lot from children’s tapes in general!) Oh, really? So many miracles? This is what we lost? It was a step in the right direction, and another piece in the puzzle.

Nineteen years have gone by, and I’ve gained each year more pieces to the puzzle, about every holiday. As I look back, I see every holiday is a little different as I saw it before, (my impressions of Pesach are drastically different than even ten years ago!) and as every year more puzzle pieces are added, I get the sense of a whole picture coming together. Very slowly, but it’s coming. It takes a lifetime, but the satisfaction of looking back a few years and seeing some progress is tremendous chizuk. I’ve come a ways since munching on wafers in front of the Kosel on the 17th of Tammuz (really representative of the state of nonfrum Jewry as a whole). And believe it or not, the fasting even gets easier every year! I have never characterized myself as a spiritual fellow, but I see that the connections do come. What a great feeling!

So if you ever feel down about not growing, know it’s not true. It’s happening and it’s slow, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be–little steps, always little steps which are permanent. May we always continue to grow, and may your fast be even easier than last year.

Reposted from July 2009

Parshas Balak – Everyone Knows, Except Me

וַיַּרְא בָּלָק בֶּן צִפּוֹר. And Balak ben Zippor saw.
The Midrash asks what was it that Balak saw? מַהוּ וַיַּרְא. רָאָה בַּפֻּרְעָנוּת הָעֲתִידָה לָבֹא עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְשׂוֹנְאָן הָיָה יוֹתֵר מִכָּל שׂוֹנְאִים. שֶׁכֻּלָּם הָיוּ בָּאִין בְּמִלְחָמוֹת וּבְשִׁעְבּוּד שֶׁהֵן יְכוֹלִים לַעֲמֹד בָּהֶן. וְזֶה, כְּאָדָם שֶׁהוּא מוֹצִיא דָּבָר מִפִּיו לַעֲקֹר אֻמָּה שְׁלֵמָה. What Does it mean “he saw”? He saw the punishment that would come upon Israel in the future. And he hated them more than all other enemies. For they all would come with war and subjugation and they (Israel) were able to withstand them. And this one (Balak) was like a man that that which came from his mouth (his speech) could uproot an entire nation.

Balak saw that the power of the Bnei Yisrael was its speech. When all of the nations of the world, even those who seemed mightier, would attack, the Bnei Yisrael prevailed. But Balak knew that this was not due to military acumen or the strength of numbers. It was because of that which came out of their mouths — their Torah study and tefillos to Hashem — that they prevailed. That’s why the Midrash here highlights that Bilam was the perfect enemy for the Jewish people, because he could uproot nations with his speech.

Two pesukim later the Torah says וַיֹּאמֶר מוֹאָב אֶל זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן. And the Moabites said to the elders of Midian… The Midrash asks why were the Moabites going to the Midianites in regard to their desire to conquer Bnei Yisrael? מַה טִּיבָם שֶׁל זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן כָּאן. שֶׁהָיוּ רוֹאִים אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל נוֹצְחִין שֶׁלֹּא כְּדֶרֶךְ הָאָרֶץ. אָמְרוּ, מַנְהִיג שֶׁלָּהֶם בְּמִדְיָן נִתְגַּדֵּל, נֵדַע מֵהֶן מַה מִּדָּתוֹ. אָמְרוּ לוֹ זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן, אֵין כֹּחוֹ אֶלָּא בְּפִיו. אָמְרוּ לָהֶם, אַף אָנוּ נָבֹא כְּנֶגְדָן בְּאָדָם שֶׁכֹּחוֹ בְּפִיו. What is the relevance of the ziknei Midian here? It is because they (the Moabites) saw that the Bnei Yisrael were conquering in an unusual way. They said (to themselves), their leader grew up in Midian, let’s find out from them what his defining character is. The elders of Midian told them: his singular strength is his mouth. They (the Moabites) said to them (the Midianites): We will also bring against them a man whose power is in his speech.

The nations of the world, their prophets, and their leaders all understood the true nature of the power of Bnei Yisrael– the power of speech. Unfortunately, in our history, we seem to have often forgotten that about ourselves. As we enter the Three Weeks and turn our focus to the sins of sinas chinam and lashon hora, we have to not only focus on the potentially devastating consequences of improper speech, but also on the positive power of our words. By realizing how precious speech is, and how pure speech brings purity to our learning and our tefillah, we will be ensuring the strength necessary to withstand golus and our enemies and achieve the final geulah.

THE TAKEAWAY: Both Balak and the Elders of Midian understood that the koach of Bnei Yisrael is in the mouth– torah learning and tefilah. We sometimes forget this, and we can get better at remembering by focusing not only on the potential damage that speech can cause but on the tremendous positive impact it can have.

THIS WEEK: Each day, review one of the statements highlighting the positive nature of pure speech found on the second page of this parsha sheet.

Yom Rishon/Sunday
There is an extremely awesome aspect of guarding one’s speech, and that is that he begins to repair Hashem’s mizbeach which was destroyed hundreds of years at the time of the churban which was brought about by baseless hatred and loshon hora.
-Chofetz Chaim, Kuntres Chovas HaShmirah.

Yom Sheini/Monday
Every word of a prayer or of any brocha, ascends to great heights carried by specially appointed angels. Each word has an effect on the upper roots of Creation. In this way, the person saying the prayer becomes a partner with Hashem in Creation, since he is able to build and influence many upper worlds. That is why the Sages refer to prayer as “devarim (things or words) that stand in the highest worlds” (Brachos 6b). In other words, the devarim themselves, the words of the prayer, stand at the highest point of the worlds. -Nefesh HaChaim

Yom Shlishi/Tuesday
According to Rabbeinu Yonah, if one guards his tongue and is careful about what he says, then his mouth is considered to be a holy vessel. Just like a holy vessel confers holiness upon whatever [non-holy] item is placed in it, so too all words that are issued from such a mouth are holy.
-Shem MiShmuel

Yom Revi’i/Wednesday
Although it is commendable to try to minimize your speech, if you see someone sad and distressed, it is a great mitzvah to raise his spirits by speaking with him.
-Sefer Shmiras HaLashon

Yom Chamishi/Thursday
Since man was created as a physical being and not simply a pure, disembodied soul, his pure soul, by itself, is not his complete essence. Rather, the essence of man is his power of speech, which is expressed by the physical organ of the tongue. For man is composed of both physical and soul. Speech is unique to man, since no animal can speak. Speech is rooted in the soul (and yet is found in a physical organ) and therefore is the essence of man (since it combines the physical and the spiritual).
-Maharal, Nesivos Olam

Yom Shishi/ Friday
Midah keneged midah is a foundational principle in all things. Therefore, if one suppresses himself and keeps his mouth from speaking disparagingly against his fellow man and arousing strife against him, so too, above, the Prosecutor will not be able to open his mouth to speak accusingly against him.
-Sefer Shmiras HaLashon

Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

Parah Adumah – It’s Never as Bad, or as Evil, as It Seems

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-zt”l

How does Jewish sin differ from sin in general?

I have recorded a homiletic interpretation … of R. Moshe Hadarshan … And have them take for you: … just as they took off their own golden earrings for the calf, so shall they bring this [cow] from their own [assets] in penance. A red cow: This is comparable to the baby of a maidservant who soiled the king’s palace [with fecal matter]. They said, “Let his mother come and clean up the mess.” Similarly, let the cow come and atone for the calf.] … [Midrash Aggadah and Tanchuma Chukath 8]

–Rashi Bemidbar19:22

A Kohen who converted to an idolatrous religion should not “raise his palms” in the priestly blessing. Others say that if he repented then he may perform the priestly blessing.

–Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 128:37

But if he actually worshipped an idol, even if he was forced to do so and even if he subsequently repented, he may not perform the priestly blessing.

–Be’er Heitev ibid footnote 63

Approach the altar: [The salient corners of the altar reminded Ahron of the juvenile horn-buds of the Calf] because Ahron was embarrassed and frightened of approaching [the altar] Moshe said to him: “Why are you ashamed? You have been chosen for this [role]!”

– Torath Kohanim on VaYikra 9:7

Fire came forth from before HaShem and consumed them [Nadav and Avihu], such that they died before HaShem. Then Moshe said to Ahron, “This is precisely what HaShem meant, [when He said], ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me (Shemos 29:43) … “

–VaYikra 10:2,3


מוֹצִיא מִזָּלוֹת יְקָרוֹת. מַתִּיר מֵאֲסוּרוֹת מֻתָּרוֹת. נוֹתֵן מִטְּמֵאוֹת טְהוֹרוֹת
HaShem brings forth the priceless from the worthless, He allows the permissible from the prohibited, He produces the pure from the impure.

Piyut-“Yotzros” for Parshas Parah

The mei chatas-the waters whose main ingredient were the ashes produced from immolating the carcass of the Parah Adumah-the Red Heifer, are the only means to gain purity after contracting impurity through contact with the dead- tuma’as meis. A person who has become tamei meis may not consume the korban Pesach-the Passover sacrifice. (Or, for that matter, any consumable sacrifices.) When the Bais HaMikdash-the Temple in Jerusalem, stood those who were tme’ei meis would undergo the mei chatas purification process required to enable them to offer their korban Pesach.  Nowadays, as the Bais HaMikdash lies in ruins, the four special parshiyos/ maftir readings that precede Pesach are all meant as a preparation for the holiday.  So we can easily understand that it is apropos to read Parshas Parah at this time of the year.

However, during each of the shalosh regalim-pilgrimage holidays, multiple offerings had to be sacrificed and consumed in a state of ritual purity.  This being the case, the Biskovitzer asks: Why is the reading of Parshas Parah limited to pre-Pesach preparation?  Logically, we ought to be reading it before Shavous and Sukkos as well. The insights that he and other members of the Izhbitzer school provide by way of answering this question reveal a profound and deep-seated difference between Jewish sin, and sin in general.

In Torah literature the Parah Adumah is known as THE Chukas haTorah, THE (most) irrational mitzvah of the Torah (preceded with the definite article.)  In a broad sense the entire body of Torah law covering the rules of purity and impurity contains only chukim-irrational mitzvos.  After all, the states of ritual purity or impurity rise above sensory perception.  We can neither see taharah-purity nor smell tumah-impurity.  Similarly, there seems to be no rhyme or reason when trying to connect the dots between cause and effect in either tumah or taharah or in endeavoring to understand their various levels.  But what makes the Parah Adumah a category of chok unto itself is the conundrum of it being a factor causing both tumah and taharah.  Those who prepare and handle it contract a low level of tumah while those who were sprayed with the mei chataas regain a state of purity after being in the thrall of the most powerful and fundamental form of tumah.

Tumah is identified with sin while having attained atonement and rapprochement is associated with taharah.  As such, the conflicted nature of the Parah Adumah serves as a metaphor for the convergence of sin and repentance; of merit and the demerits; of kilkul-spiritual ruination, and tikkun– it’s repair and restoration. The Parah Adumah itself is seen as atoning for the greatest of all sins; the Golden Calf.  It is the mother that comes to clean up the mess that her baby left in the king’s palace.

While the Calf is the “child” and the Red Heifer the “parent” oddly enough, in this case, it is the child that gives birth to the parent.  Absent the Golden Calf there would never have been a Red Heifer. The Biskovitzer maintains that the message of the Parah Adumah is that Jewish sins even the most catastrophic an egregious of Jewish sins; are not all bad.  A weed cannot produce a tasty apple.  If we were to see a delicious apple hanging from a noxious weed we would be forced to conclude that there’s more to this weed than meets the eye.  While it may look and smell like a weed, it must contain some genetic material capable of producing such delicious and nourishing fruit.

If ever there was a sin, a metaphysical weed that looked “all bad” it was the Golden Calf.  Yet when considered on a deeper level it was motivated by something virtuous. K’lal Yisrael, the Jewish People wanted (a) god to lead them.  Ultimately HaShem agreed to this and said “and they should make a sanctuary for me and I will cause my Divine Indwelling to be among them.” (Shemos 25:8) And when they besieged Ahron to become their agent to serve/ worship and to build the altar this too remained as a permanent fixture in the Divine service of HaShem, as Ahron became the Kohen Gadol.

Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, when listing many examples of spiritual/metaphysical darkness that are the necessary prerequisites to the light that follows, goes so far as to say that the sin of the Golden Calf was the primary cause of the construction of the Mishkan and that the sin of Nadav and Avihu was the primary cause of the Mishkan’s holiness.  Still, the Lubliner Kohen pointedly reminds us that, while the light is contained in the darkness and that spiritual purity and sanctity are present in potentia in every Jewish sin, that sin nevertheless remains, well, sinful … and something to be ashamed of. (cp Taanis 11A Tosafos D”H Amar Shmuel). Otherwise, why would it be prohibited to remind those Ba’alei Teshuvah-masters of repentance, who were motivated to repent by the love of HaShem, of their earlier misdeeds?  While we know that repentance motivated by such love has the power to transform premeditated, and even malicious, sins into zechuyos, merits/ mitzvos, there is nonetheless something untoward and unseemly about the original acts which still appear as sins in the historical record.

This explains Ahron’s reticence and sense of shame and apprehension when he first approached the altar to do the Divine service.  Ahron had done absolutely nothing and exerted no efforts to attain the Office of Kohen Gadol.  On the contrary, his culpability in the sin of the Golden Calf would have seemed to torpedo any chances that he had to serve in the Mishkan.  The halachah states that a Kohen who worshipped idols is disqualified from serving again as a Kohen to HaShem, even after returning to the fold and repenting. How much more so for the “enabler” of this foulest idolatry of the Jewish People? It was only his profound sense of shame over his involvement in the sin of the Golden Calf and his feelings of unbridgeable distance and alienation from HaShem that, paradoxically, brought him closer to HaShem than anyone else. To paraphrase the paytan-liturgical poet, of the Parshas Parah yotzer vis-à-vis Ahron;  HaShem brought forth the premier servant from the most mutinous rebel.

The Biskovitzer concludes that while ritual purification from contact with the dead is required in order to consume any of the korbanos we read Parshas Parah before Pesach because they convey the identical message.  During the Exodus from Egypt the ministering angels “challenged” HaShem’s salvation of the Jews and simultaneous destruction of the Egyptians by saying; “these and those are both idolaters.”  Yet, during the night of the slaying of the firstborn, HaShem “passed over.” He, kivyachol-as it were, leapfrogged from one Egyptian occupied home to the other while leaving the Jews occupying the homes in the middle, unscathed.  On a level so profound, deep and imperceivable that even the angels could not grasp it, there was, indeed, a difference between Jewish idolatry, and the concomitant descent into the 49 gates of impurity, and the idolatry of the Egyptians.  While both Egyptians and Jews worshipped idols, the Jews had suffered terribly for k’vod Shamayim-for god’s greater Glory.  Jewish idolatry was not all bad, somehow the purity and sanctity of Mattan Torah-the revelation at Sinai inhered in the degradation, defilement and, yes, even in the idolatry of the Jewish slavery experience in Egypt.

~adapted from Neos Desheh Parshas Parah
Takanas HaShavin 5 page 21
Resisei Laylah 24 pages 3031

This post is An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK

Parshas Korach – Give it Up

וְאִם הוּא מַחֲזִיק בַּמַחְלֹקֶת עַל יְדֵי סִפּוּרוֹ עוֹבֵר עוֹד עַל לָאו דְּ”לֹא יִהְיֶה כְקֹרַח שֶׁהוּא אַזְהָרָה, שֶׁלֹּא לְהַחֲזִיק בְּמַחְלֹקֶת ×›.
And if he gives strength to a dispute through his own speech, he has also transgressed the prohibition of “You shall not be like Korach and his followers”, this (commandment) is a warning to not strengthen a dispute. (Sefer Chofetz Chaim Chekek Alef, pesicha, Lav Yud Beis).

The Chofetz Chaim, on this lav, references the gemara in Sanhedrin (110a). ויקם משה וילך אל דתן ואבירם אמר ר”ל מכאן שאין מחזיקין במחלוקת דאמר רב כל המחזיק במחלוקת עובר בלאו שנאמר ולא ×™×”×™×” כקרח וכעדתו And Moshe got up and he went to Dasan and Aviram, Reish Lakish says from here (we learn) not to strengthen a dispute, as Rav says: anyone who strengthens a dispute has transgressed the prohibition of “You shall not be like Korach and his followers”. Rashi points out why it is that we learn this concept from the actions of Moshe: שמחל על כבודו והוא עצמו הלך לבטל מחלוקת (Moshe) was mochel on his honor, and he himself went out to nullify the dispute.

There is a fairly common misunderstanding that the prohibition of being mechazek a machlokes is limited to those outside the actual machlokes. In other words, it’s telling us not to get involved in other people’s disputes. Yes, this is certainly prohibited, but this issur is not limited to that. The gemara is telling us that even those involved in the machlokes itself, and even those who are absolutely correct should do what they can to dampen or uproot the machlokes. We learn this from the actions of
לרפואה שׁלמה חיה גיטל בת מלכה

Moshe who was on the side of Hashem, had been personally attacked, and was הֶחָשׁוּב שֶׁבְּיִשְׂרָאֵל the most important person in klal yisrael. Nonetheless, he “got up and went” to Dasan and Aviram in order to do what he could to quell the dispute.

The Midrash says that because Moshe went to the tents of Dasan and Aviram, four tzadikim were saved from Gehenom– the three sons of Korach and On ben Peles. The Chofetz Chaim in Sefer Shmiras HaLashon emphasizes the extent to which we need to go to seek peace. He explains the pusek in tehillim בַּקִּשׁ שָׁלוֹם וְרָדְפֵהוּ Seek peace and pursue it as: Seek peace among your friends, pursue it among your enemies; Seek peace in the place where you are, pursue it in other places; Seek peace with personal efforts, pursue peace with your financial resources; Seek peace when it concerns you, pursue peace even when it only involves others; and Seek peace today, pursue peace even for tomorrow (if your efforts at peacemaking don’t bear fruit today, try again tomorrow).

THE TAKEAWAY: We have an obligation to avoid machlokes and to actively and incessantly pursue peace. Moshe, the greatest prophet to ever live, was willing to forego his honor in order to attempt to make peace.

THIS WEEK: Start building or working on the muscle of giving in. Give up on something that you feel is due to you in order to avoid or deepen a conflict.
___________________________
Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

Rav Uri Zohar’s Gift

By Jonathan Rosenblum

Rav Uri Zohar ztz”l, who passed away last week, arguably had a greater impact on the Jews in Israel than anyone else in the last fifty years. When he first appeared on the talk show he hosted in 1977 wearing a kippah, the audience and all those watching at home did not know whether to treat it as part of a skit or real. Until then, he had personified the Ashkenazi secular elite that dominated the country in its first three decades.

His move toward a Torah life made teshuvah a real possibility for every single Jew in Israel: If the Torah could win over Uri Zohar, how could anyone feel safe? Amnon Dankner, who would later become editor of Maariv, wrote at that time of hearing of another old friend entering Ohr Somayach every week, and described himself as like an “apple swaying on a tree,” not knowing which way he would fall.

Uri Zohar’s “conversion” simultaneously infused the still small (by today’s standards) Torah community with newfound confidence. Nothing could explain Zohar’s sudden shift other than his conviction of the truth of Torah, for in choosing a Torah life, he put his marriage at grave risk, and sacrificed the material success and fame he had achieved.

My life twice intersected with Rabbi Zohar’s. I was privileged to adapt into English (as a junior partner to Rabbi Doniel Baron) his pamphlet on dealing with struggling children: Breakthrough: How to Reach Our Struggling Kids (Feldheim 2016). I reread it after his passing, and remain convinced that it is required reading for every Jewish parent.

His advice on building a loving relationship, based on open lines of communication, with each child long before they reach their teenage years is invaluable. That means creating time to speak — and much more important, listen — to each child every day. Be careful not to respond with pre-packaged Mussar lessons, lest our children learn that there are subjects it does not pay to discuss with their parents. And don’t live vicariously through your children. “What score did you get on the test?” should not be our most frequently asked question.

Rabbi Zohar wrote about struggling teens from much personal experience with his own children, and of their eventual reconnection to Hashem. The resulting sefer is at once filled with common sense and based on deep Torah insights. (He was a serious talmid chacham, with particular command of the esoteric writings of the Vilna Gaon, Maharal, and Ramchal.) The writing is clear, logical, compassionate, and succinct. The sefer can be read easily in under three hours.

A child’s religious struggles strike parents at their most vulnerable points: their aspirations for their children and their self-image. And consequently, they trigger a host of negative emotions — shame, guilt, fear, and anger — which make it difficult to think clearly, at precisely the moment when thinking clearly is most needed.

Most parents, for instance, recognize that confrontation and denigrating comments are not the likeliest tools to bring their children back. After all, they smile and try to engage their neighbor’s off-the-derech child in friendly conversation. But with their own children….

Rav Zohar showed parents how to remove themselves from the equation in order to focus on helping their child. Rule one: Don’t worry about the opinions of your neighbors. Rule two: Avoid all reactions “cultivated by institutionalized religion, but which do not necessarily reflect true Torah values.” If we obsess, for instance, over a child’s jeans or hairstyle, we may end up driving away not only the legs wearing those jeans, but the heart and head attached to those legs as well.

Some degree of teenage rebellion is almost inevitable, Rav Zohar noted, as a teenager finds himself overcome by powerful emotions and drives with which he or she has had no previous experience. Those drives go with physical maturation, and that physical maturation usually precedes the emotional maturation necessary for a teenager to regain control.

That means there is often nothing that a parent can do other than exercise patience, waiting for emotional maturation to catch up, while maintaining the lines of communication and showing one’s continuing love for one’s struggling child. Expressions of love will not be experienced by teenagers as condonation for their actions; they know very well how their parents conduct their lives and their values.

Rather parental love conveys the message that the Torah does not reject him, and that Hashem awaits his return, just as we pray every year on Yom Kippur that He show patience with us in mending our faults and failures. Exercising patience means that what we don’t say or don’t do is often more important than what we do or say.

Everyone requires a measure of kavod, respect, and none more so that struggling teenagers. The Gemara (Bava Metzia 85a) records how Rebbi brought back the wayward son of Rabi Elazar and the grandson of Rabi Tarfon. In the former case, he began by conferring semichah on the young man, and in the latter’s case by offering his daughter in marriage if he did teshuvah.

Rabbi Zohar’s central metaphor for the role of parents in dealing with struggling children is a midrash (Midrash Rabbah Shemos 46:1). The Midrash relates that when Moshe saw the dancing around the Golden Calf, he realized he could either retain the Luchos, and the people would cease to exist, for they were no longer capable of receiving the level of kedushah contained in the Luchos, or he could break them. Even though the Second Luchos possessed far less kedushah, only they are referred to as tov, for only they were suitable to the spiritual level of the people. (See Maharal, Tiferes Yisrael 35.)

Similarly, writes Rabbi Zohar, parents must transmit Torah to their children according to their current level. “We need to shatter our own norms, abrogate our ‘nonnegotiable’ principles…. We cannot be fettered by social convention or any other social convention as we focus on how we can effectively give over Torah to our children.”

My second opportunity to interact with Rav Uri came while interviewing him for my biography of Rav Noach Weinberg. Even before Rav Uri and his wife became fully observant, Rav Noach and his wife Denah went to visit them at their seaside villa. Subsequently, Rav Noach took on the support of a kollel, which included a number of highly motivated and talented baalei teshuvah, headed by Rabbi Avraham Mendelsohn, the son-in-law of Rav Yitzchak Shlomo Zilberman. Rav Zilberman was the primary religious influence on Rav Uri’s close friend Ari Yitzchak, and subsequently on Rav Uri himself.

Rabbi Zohar joined that kollel when he moved to Jerusalem, and learned in it for over a decade. His presence was one of the major reasons for Rav Noach’s ongoing support of the kollel in the Old City. During that period, the two became very close, though they also argued frequently. Rav Noach constantly pushed Rav Uri to become actively engaged in kiruv, while the latter considered Rav Noach’s vision of returning the entire Jewish People to Torah to be detached from reality and felt that he could have a greater impact through the power of his learning.

Not until 1992, after 15 years of nonstop learning, did Rabbi Zohar agree to make five public appearances on behalf of the new Lev L’achim organization, each of which drew huge crowds. That reemergence — but now as a full-fledged talmid chacham — was of great satisfaction to Rav Noach, and he raised very large sums for Lev L’achim.

My clearest memory of that interview is Rabbi Zohar’s lament that the Torah community is filled with many who have no doubt of Hashem’s existence, but who view Hashem as “out to get them.” They do not feel that Hashem’s greatest desire is their good. That lament could have been taken straight from Rav Noach, who always made Hashem’s ahavah rabbah the focal point of his teaching.

At some point in the interview, Rav Uri must have noticed my amazement at the tiny size of his apartment. He told me laughingly that he was downsizing in preparation for an even more confined space. His body is now there. But his great soul is free to soar unfettered.

Originally published in Mishpacha Magazine – 6/15/2022
https://www.jewishmediaresources.com/2187/rav-uri-zohar-gift

Parshas Behaloscha – Five Barriers, Three Breakthroughs

לזכות חיים יוא־ל בן ארי־ה משׁה הלוי

Our parsha contains the most well known incidence of lashon hara and tzaras– Miriam speaking about Moshe. Before any discussion of this incident can be undertaken, it is imperative to understand that Miriam was among the greatest prophets ever and that due to her lofty level, she was held to an extremely exacting standard. There is not a single meforesh that explains that Miriam ever intended harm to Moshe. In fact, most explain that Miriam’s intentions were constructive. Nonetheless, she was taken to task for not living up to her potential.

The Chofetz Chaim wrote five seforim addressing the halachos and hashkafos of lashon hara: Sefer Chofetz Chaim, Sefer Shmiras HaLashon-chelek alef, Sefer Shmiras HaLashon-chelek beis, Chovos HaShmirah, and Kuntres Zachor LeMiriam. The Kuntres Zachor LeMiriam focuses to a large extent on the mitzvah to remember what Hashem did to Miriam. According to most opinions, we have a daily obligation to remember this by reading, out loud, the pasuk (found in most sedurim at the end of shacharis): זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֧ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֛ה יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לְמִרְיָ֑ם בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵֽאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם Remember what Hashem your G-d did to Miriam on the way when you were coming out of Egypt. In the first perek of Zachor LeMiriam, the Chofetz Chaim provides five reasons why people don’t always see the full benefit of saying this pasuk:

1. People often don’t appreciate or understand that they suffer from the malady of lashon hora, and since they don’t realize this, they do not seek to be cured from it.
2. Even those who verbalize the zechirah of Miriam don’t think deeply about it and don’t try to understand the depth of bitterness that Miriam experienced after this incident.
3. People look at others who are scrupulous to say the pasuk daily and assume that it does not help since they still see them speaking lashon hora.
4. Many don’t understand that in order to remedy their improper speech, they need to take the steps to uncover the root causes of their own lashon hara (the Chofetz Chaim provides a list of these causes in Sefer Shmiras HaLashon: anger, cynicism, arrogance, futility, negativity, and rationalization).
5. People think that their lashon hora is so entrenched that they believe they will never be successful in removing their yetzer hara in this regard.

The Chofetz Chaim provides advice for how to get past these five barriers. His advice is well known to us: עֲקַבְיָא בֶן מַהֲלַלְאֵל אוֹמֵר, הִסְתַּכֵּל בִּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים וְאִי אַתָּה בָא לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה. דַּע מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ, וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן. Akivah ben Mehalelel said Gaze at three things and you will not come to sin: Know from where you came, and to where you are going, and before whom you will stand in judgment and provide an accounting. The Chofetz Chaim provides several insights into each of these three concepts. We will only focus on one insight for each of them.

Know from where you came. In addition to the insight with which most of us are familiar — that we come from a putrid drop, the Chofetz Chaim accentuates the positive. He explains that although man is physical–like all other creations– he has a soul that is divine–מִן הַשָׁמַיּם . We are lofty beings and when we remember that, we will be careful not to besmirch ourselves with lashon hara and not to disparage our fellow man, each of whom possesses a divine soul.

Know where you are going. The Chofetz Chaim points out that the language here is in the present tense. It’s not “know where you will end up”, it’s “know where you are going, right now”. Every day we are aging, moving closer to the day when we will leave this world and return to dust. If so, what possible arrogance (the primary root of lashon hara and all sins) can we have? Our physicality and physical possessions? These are amortizing, decreasing in value, every day.

Before whom you will stand in judgment and provide an accounting. There is no hiding or rationalization before Hashem. The Chofetz Chaim explains that each of us will have to give an accounting for every word we have spoken, particularly for speech that is forbidden: lashon hara, rechilus, deceptive speech, harmful words, lies, false flattery, words that publicly embarrass others, and words that create or sustain machlokes.

The Chofetz Chaim summarizes the mishna: when we focus on these three things, we will not be ensnared by the middah of gaivah- arrogance, שֶׁהִיא רֵשִׁית לְכָל חֵטְא which is the primary cause of all sin. The Chofetz Chaim concludes that man should also focus on the tremendous kindness that Hashem extends to him throughout his entire life and then he will be happy with his lot. When we are happy with what we have — with what we have been gifted– we will not be worried that others have more, and we won’t look to bring others down through negative speech.

THE TAKEAWAY: We are required to remember what Hashem did to Miriam for speaking improperly. People don’t always get the full benefit of this mitzva because: they don’t realize how deficient their own speech is, they say the words without getting a deeper understanding of them, they look at others who say the pasuk but still speak lashon hara, they don’t investigate the root causes of their improper speech, or they believe that their improper speech is so entrenched that they cannot repair it. By thinking about the purity of our souls and those of our fellow Jews, understanding that we have nothing to be arrogant about, and remembering that we will have to provide an accounting for every word we speak, we will arouse ourselves to fight the yetzer hara for improper speech.

THIS WEEK: The Chofetz Chaim points out that if we think about the three things discussed in the mishna above, we will distance ourselves from sin. But, he also says that each one on their own can divert us from sin. Read this short Mishna (Pirkei Avos 3:1) daily this week and take a moment to think about which of these three things speak to you the most. Set a reminder/alarm for yourself to stop and think about this particular aspect at least once during your day.

Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

The Joy of Mussar

You might be questioning whether it’s appropriate to use the words “Joy” and “Mussar” in the same sentence. Mussar has a strong judgemental tone. When you give somebody Mussar, you’re not telling him to “Have a nice day”. Rather, you’re telling him that “You need to make some serious corrections, brother.”

If we look at the Mesillas Yesharim, the classic textbook on spiritual growth and Mussar, we’ll see that the perceived judgemental tone of Mussar is well founded. The early chapters deal with the trait of Zehirus, watchfulness. The first essential spiritual practice of Zehirus is thinking before you act so that you don’t come to do something wrong. The second essential spiritual practice is reviewing your daily actions to identify and work on correcting in the future, the things you did wrong today. This type of self-judgment sounds intense and it may turn a person away from Mussar, but please read on.

The key is to put this self-judgement in its proper perspective, as the Mesillas Yesharim does in the first two chapters of the sefer. He tells us that the highest pleasure that can be achieved in this world (and the next) is the pleasure of connecting to Hashem. We know that positive emotional and spirtual pleasures are the result of love and connection, as we experience in the pleasure of loving our spouses, our children, our parents, and our friends. We can experience an even greater pleasure when we love and connect with the Master of the Universe and the Source of All Existence. Achieving this great spiritual pleasure takes work. However, when we do put in the proper effort and achieve success, the fact that we worked hard to earn that pleasure makes it even sweeter.

The Ramchal teaches us that this work involves overcoming these deficiencies:
1) controlling and directing our physical desires;
2) reducing self-centeredness and ego;
3) overcoming our natural inclination towards laziness;
4) getting past the distractions of day to day living to focus on serving Hashem;

Corresponding to the extent that we overcome these deficiencies is the extent to which we can experience the greatest of pleasures—connecting to Hashem. We correct these deficiencies through the positive and negative mitzvos. And just like a businessman must judge his activities to achieve his goals, so too must we judge our activities to see why we are not achieving the intense spiritual pleasure available to us.

This is the Joy of Mussar. We have the ability to achieve intense connection and pleasure and Mussar helps us to keep moving on that path. We know from our professional, friendship-building, parental, and spousal experiences that achieving success in the most important things in life takes work. How fortunate are we to have an avenue like Mussar, and a sefer like the Mesillas Yesharim to instruct us on what we need to do to help us achieve the greatest pleasures and happiness available in this world.

Here is a link to hebrew and english versions of Mesillas Yesharim.

Updated from the originally published post of June 2018

Shmirah Ba’Shavuah – Parshas Bamidbar/Shavous Edition

פרשת במדבר ושבועות
Parshas Bamidbar/Shavous Edition
לעילוי נשמת רבקה בת שמאי

Ideas and insights from the forthcoming sefer Shmirah Ba’Shavuah. To sponsor a weekly parsha sheet or to inquire about sponsorship opportunities for the sefer, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com
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הקדמה לספר במדבר
Introduction to Sefer Bamidbar
Everyone Counts

תובנה לפרשת במדבר
Insight to Parshas Bamidbar
Choosing Communities

תובנה לשבועות
Shavous Insight
Keneged Kulam

Sefer Bamidbar
Introduction- Everyone counts.

The gemara in Sotah (36b) refers to Sefer Bamidbar as חוֹמֶשׁ הַפְּקוּדִים the Book of Counting. This is how Chazal commonly refer to Sefer Bamidbar, and this is the reason why Sefer Bamidbar is called “Numbers” in english. While it is true that two major censuses of the Jewish people appear in Sefer Bamidbar, there are many more incidents in the Sefer that do not relate to the counting of the members of the Jewish nation. So, why the emphasis on counting? Why is פְּקוּדִים the underlying theme of the entire Sefer? Let’s explore.

We find within Sefer Bamidbar some of the Torah’s most prominent incidents of improper speech. We have Miriam’s improper speech about Moshe and her subsequent punishment with tzaras. We have the incident of the meraglim– the spies who spoke negatively about the land of Israel– resulting in the dying off of an entire generation before entering the land and planting the seeds of future golus from the land. We also have Korach’s attempts to rile up the Jewish people to overthrow Moshe’s leadership. These are in addition to several other speech related incidents including Moshe hitting the rock instead of speaking to it and, lehavdil, Bilaam’s attempts to curse Bnei Yisrael.

While each of these three major speech related incidents have individual aspects and lessons, they all share a common denominator: comparison. Let’s take a look at each of these incidents to see how they are each rooted in comparison.

Aaron and Miriam said: הֲרַ֤ק אַךְ־בְּמֹשֶׁה֙ דִּבֶּ֣ר יְהֹוָ֔ה הֲלֹ֖א גַּם־בָּ֣נוּ דִבֵּ֑ר Did Hashem only speak to Moshe?! He also speaks to us. Aaron and Miriam were discussing how Moshe had separated from his wife because he wanted to be in a state of purity when Hashem would speak to him. This –separating from their spouses– was something that Miriam and Aaron did not do. Aaron and Miriam were prophets as well and, in their minds, there could be no reason for Moshe to act differently than they did. Eventually, Hashem explained to Miriam and Aaron that Moshe is not like any other prophet– Hashem speaks to him without a moment’s notice and face to face. While we know that Moshe was the greatest prophet that ever lived, the lesson here isn’t about lauding Moshe, it is about teaching Miriam and Aaron that they should not compare themselves to him.

The meraglim made two significant comparison-related mistakes. Chazal tell us that the meraglim compared Eretz Yisrael to all other ordinary lands, failing to see its uniqueness as the land chosen by Hasem and that which had been promised to Bnei Yisrael. The meraglim also compared Bnei Yisrael to the inhabitants of the land, even presuming how they appeared — like grasshoppers– in comparison to those inhabitants.

Finally, Korach compared himself and his family to Moshe and his family, complaining that everyone was equal. כָל־הָֽעֵדָה֙ כֻּלָּ֣ם קְדשִׁ֔ים וּבְתוֹכָ֖ם יְהֹוָ֑ה וּמַדּ֥וּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂא֖וּ עַל־קְהַ֥ל יְהֹוָֽה The entire congregation is holy and Hashem is among them, so why do you raise yourself above the rest of Hashem’s assembly?
When we start comparing ourselves to others, two things happen: We don’t value our own uniqueness and we bring others down so that we feel better about ourselves.

Let’s turn back to our question: why is the entire sefer called Sefer Pekudim, even though only a small portion of it relates to the censuses? Perhaps we can find an answer in the challenges presented by these three speech related episodes.

The Ramban provides us a great deal of insight into exactly what pakad, the root of the word pekudim, means. ענין פקידה זכרון והשגחה על דבר The essence of pekida is remembrance and personal divine attention to the matter. כלשון וה’ פקד את שרה, for example Hashem paked es Sarah, Hashem remembered and turned His attention to Sarah.

The Ramban further points out that in the census that is taken in the beginning of the Sefer, the individuals were counted תולדותם למשפחותם לבית אבותם as members of a generation, a family, and their father’s family. HaRav Gedalia Schorr understands the Ramban as telling us that every single individual that was brought before Moshe and Aharon has a special life mission, a tafkid (also from the root of pakad) in relation to his role in the Jewish Nation, a tafkid within his family, and a tafkid within his tribe. No part of the nation would be whole without each individual.

The Ramban goes on to highlight three more important aspects of pekida. מרוב חבתם מונה אותם כל שעה ועוד ×›×™ הבא לפני אב הנביאים ואחיו קדוש ×”’ והוא נודע אליהם בשמו ×™×”×™×” לו בדבר ×”×–×” זכות וחיים ×›×™ בא בסוד העם ובכתב בני ישראל וזכות הרבים במספרם וכן לכולם זכות במספר שימנו לפני משה ואהרן ×›×™ ישימו עליהם עינם לטובה יבקשו עליהם רחמים ×”’ אלהי אבותיכם

1. Due to His abundant love (for the Bnei Yisrael) He counts them from time to time.

2. Furthermore, when (each person) would come before the father of all prophets (Moshe) and his brother (Aaron), the one who is holy to Hashem, and he knew them by name, there will be a merit and life, because he has come in the council of the people and onto the list of the Bnei Yisrael, and he receives a part in the merit of the community by being included in their numbers.

3. Similarly, each of the people receive a special merit through being counted individually by Moshe and Aaron, for they will set their eyes upon them for good and ask for mercy for them from the G-d of their fathers.

Let’s recap this deeper understanding of pakad so that we can understand, for ourselves, how we should look at each person in Klal Yisrael.
1. Pakad has an aspect of love, Hashem counts us, individually because He loves and treasures us;
2. Pakad includes an aspect of calling to mind merits, like Hashem did for Sarah, and a level of individual divine providence;
3. Pakad includes an understanding that every single individual is unique and plays an irreplaceable, G-d given role within his generation, his family and his ancestry;
4. Pakad has a nature of joining each individual to the community and thereby providing them with the merit of the community and the community with their respective merits; and
5. Pakad includes an aspect of understanding the importance of each individual, by name, and asking Hashem to have rachamim on them.

In sum, when we are involved in pekudim we show interest and value for each individual, we understand that we need them and that they play a unique role, we appreciate them, we get to know them thereby draw divine remembrance, hashgacha and mercy.

The essence of individuality and the important and unique role that each person plays in Hashem’s world is the direct opposite of comparison. Comparison is rooted in finding negative differences while pakad is rooted in finding and appreciating unique positive differences. When we shift from comparison to pekida, we would never think to degrade others with our speech. Instead, just as Moshe and Aaron saw the beauty of each individual and asked Hashem to have mercy on them, we will do the same. Imagine flipping potentially damaging speech to speech that praises others and asks Hashem to shower rachamim upon them.

The Midrash relates an additional fascinating aspect about pakad וכשבאו משה ואהרן אצל זקני ישראל ועשו האותות לעיניהם, הלכו אצל סרח בת אשר. אמרו לה, בא אדם אחד אצלנו ועשה אותות לעינינו כך וכך, אמרה להם, אין באותות האלו ממש. אמרו לה, והרי אמר פקוד יפקוד אלהים אתכם. אמרה להם, הוא האיש העתיד לגאול את ישראל ממצרים, שכן שמעתי מאבא פ”×” ופ”×” פקוד יפקוד, מיד האמינו העם באלהיהם ובשלוחו. When Moshe and Aaron came to the elders of Israel and performed the signs before their eyes, they (the elders) went to Serach bas Asher (who was the oldest living member of Bnei Yisrael) and they said to her: A certain man has come and performed signs in our sight, like this and this (explaining the signs). She said to them: There is nothing of true essence in signs. They said to her: He said “Pakod yiphkod Elokim eschem- G-d will surely visit you”. She said to them: This is the man who will bring Israel out of Egypt, for this is what I heard from my father “peh u’peh, Pakod Pakadeti” (this was the siman of a true redeemer that had been transmitted from Avraham to Yitzchak to Yaakov to the Shvatim, and from Asher to Serach). Immediately the people believed in G-d and His messenger (Moshe)…

This Midrash shows that geulah is somehow rooted in pakad. The Chofetz Chaim tells us that Loshon Hara is the primary aveira that has prolonged our current golus. Perhaps we can say that the way out of golus is by focusing on pakad, appreciating and loving every Jew, getting to know them, davening for them and growing alongside them. When we do so, we will stop making comparisons, stop speaking loshon hara ,and merit geulah, it should be speedily and in our days.

Parshas Bamidbar

Choosing Communities
מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת בְּנֵֽי־קְהָ֖ת יַֽחֲנ֑וּ עַ֛ל יֶ֥רֶךְ הַמִּשְׁכָּ֖ן תֵּימָֽנָה
The families of the sons of Kehas shall camp to the south.

Rashi comments: וסמוכין להם דגל ראובן החונים תימנה, אוי לרשע ואוי לשכנו לכך לקו מהם דתן ואבירם ומאתים וחמשים איש עם קרח ועדתו, שנמשכו עמהם במחלוקתם Near them was the division of Reuven, who camped to the south. Woe to the wicked, woe to his neighbor! This explains why Daasan, Aviram, and two hundred and fifty men were struck with Korach and his congregation, because (since they were neighbors) they were drawn into their machlokes.

The Chofetz Chaim tells us אָסוּר לָדוּר בִּשְׁכוּנַת בַּעֲלֵי לָשׁוֹן הָרָע, וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן לֵישֵׁב עִמָּהֶם וְלִשְׁמֹעַ דִּבְרֵיהֶם It is forbidden to live in a neighborhood of consistent speakers of loshon hara, and all the more so to sit with them and listen to their words. In a hagaah on this halacha, the Chofetz Chaim says: ומזה נוכל ללמד, דכל שכן שיש לזהר מאד, שלא לקבע לו מקום בבית הכנסת ובבית המדרש אצל בעלי הלשון
And from here we can learn, all the more so, that one must be extremely careful not to establish for himself a physical place within a Beis HaKeneses or Beis Hamidrash near baalei loshon Hara. The Chofetz Chaim elaborates upon the insidious nature of sitting among these types of sinners in a shul or where one learns. Not only does one place himself at jeopardy of listening to, approving of, believing, and participating in loshon hara, but he also will: miss responding Amen and Yehei shemei rabbah in davening, lose out on a great deal of learning, and even the learning that he does accomplish will be fragmented.

Many meforshim ask why this Rashi, explaining the danger of associating with sinners, is brought here in regard to the physical location of the family of Kehas. The Sifsei Chachamim explains: מקשים העולם ל”ל לרש”×™ לכל פי’ ×–×” כאן ויש לומר דק”ל למה לא כתיב משפחת בני הקהתי כמו דכתיב בתר ×”×›×™ למשפחת הקהתי. ולעיל נמי כתיב אלה הם משפחות הקהתי, ומפרש וסמוכים להם דגל ראובן וכו’ שחטאו והחטיאו את הרבים ואינן ראויים לכתוב השם בשמם דהיינו ×””א בראש התיבה והיו”ד בסוף התיבה: Everyone asks the question: Why does Rashi bring this explanation here? It can be said that he is answering this question: Why did the Torah not write (in this verse) “the families of the children of הקהתי (the Kehosites)” as it writes in the next verse — “of the families of the Kehosites,” and above (two verses earlier) — “these are the families of the Kehosites”? (Rashi is answering this question: If previously and subsequently we used the word הקהתי, why only in this verse does the Torah use the words בְּנֵֽי־קְהָ֖ת the sons of Kehas). This was because (the verse is teaching:) “Near them was the banner of Reuven…” They (Korach and his followers who were from Kehas) sinned and they caused others (their neighbors) to sin. Therefore, it was improper to write the Name (of Hashem) — with the (letter) hei at the beginning and the (letter) yud at the end together with their name. (The letters yud and hei comprise one of Hashem’s names, therefore הקהתי is a combination of Hashem’s name with Kehas’ name).

This Sifsei Chachamim is enlightening. Someone who lives alongside sinners, and particularly baalei machlokes does not merit to have Hashem’s name attached to them. The gemara in Arakhin (15b) says something similar regarding those who speak loshon hara. המספר לשון הרע אמר הקב”×” אין אני והוא יכולין לדור בעולם One who speaks loshon Hara, Hashem says: He and I cannot exist in the same world.

THE TAKEAWAY: Simply being in close proximity to those who habitually sin has a negative impact on us. It is forbidden to live in a community of baalei loshon hara and it is forbidden to remain in a group that is speaking loshon hara. Hashem distances himself from those who choose to speak improperly or associate with those who do.

THIS WEEK: Think about the communities in which you live. Baruch Hashem, we do not usually find entire communities comprised of baalei loshon hara. But we also need to think about the sub-communities in which we live and work. Sometimes those are actual communities and sometimes they are virtual. Ask yourself: are the people that I choose to spend time with generally careful about their conversations? If not, are these the type of people that I can have an influence upon for the good? If so, determine how you can begin influencing them and ask for Rabbinical guidance on how to do so. If not, determine how you can reduce the time spent with that community and/or gracefully remove yourself from it.

Shavuos Thought
Keneged Kulam

We are all familiar with the mishnah in Peah: אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים שֶׁאָדָם אוֹכֵל פֵּרוֹתֵיהֶן בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וְהַקֶּרֶן קַיֶּמֶת לוֹ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. כִּבּוּד אָב וָאֵם, וּגְמִילוּת חֲסָדִים, וַהֲבָאַת שָׁלוֹם בֵּין אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ, וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶגֶד כֻּלָּם These are the things that a man eats from their fruits in this world and the principal remains for him in the next world: Honoring parents, performing acts of chesed, making peace between two people, and the study of Torah is equivalent to them all.

The Yerushalmi (Peah 5a) elucidates the mishnah by adding: וּכְנֶגְדָּן אַרְבָּעָה דְּבָרִים שֶׁהֵן נִפְרָעִין מִן הָאָדָם בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וְהַקֶּרֶן קַייֶמֶת לוֹ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. וְאֵילּוּ הֵן עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה וְגִילּוּי עֲרָיוֹת וּשְׁפִיכוּת דָּמִים. וְלָשׁוֹן הָרַע כְּנֶגֶד כּוּלָּן. In regard to four things is someone punished in this world while the principle of the punishment remains in the next world, and these are them: idol worship, illicit relations, and murder, and loshon hara is equivalent to them all.

There is a clear contrary parallel between Talmud Torah and loshon hara. One brings life, bounty and reward while the other causes destruction, scarcity and punishment. Since Talmud Torah is dependent on speech, loshon hara has a particularly damaging effect on it.

The Vilna Gaon in the Iggeres HaGra says: שכל מצותיו ותורותיו של אדם אינו מספיק למה שמוציא מפיו All of the mitzvos and Torah of a person are not equal to that which comes out of his mouth. This teaches that if someone is constantly speaking loshon hara, he is defiling his mouth and his deeds to the extent that they no longer bear fruits. This is particularly the case when it comes to loshon hara and Talmud Torah. The Gra in Shenos Eliyahu comments on the above Yerushalmi that there is a direct correlation between the four mitzvos mentioned in the mishnah and the four aveiros mentioned in the gemara. This correlation is set in the order of the listings of the respective mitzvos and aveiros, and that brings a parallel between Talmud Torah and loshon hara.

The Chofetz Chaim elaborates on this in the Shaar HaZechirah of his sefer Shmiras Haloshon: עַתָּה נְבָאֵר אֶת עֹצֶם הַזְּכוּת, לְמִי שֶׁשּׁוֹמֵר אֶת פִּיו וּלְשׁוֹנוֹ מִלְּדַבֵּר דִּבּוּרִים אֲסוּרִים. תְּחִלַּת כָּל הַמַּעֲלוֹת, הוּא מְתַקֵן וּמְקַדֵּשׁ עַל יְדֵי זֶה אֶת כְּלִי הָאֻמָּנוּת הַמְיֻחָד לָאִישׁ הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִי, שֶׁהוּא הַדִּבּוּר, וְכָל הַדִּבּוּרִים שֶׁיְּדַבֵּר אַחַר כָּךְ בַּתּוֹרָה וּבַתְּפִלָּה, יַעֲלֶה לִמְקוֹר שָׁרְשׁוֹ לְמַעְלָה. Now, we shall explain the greatness of the merit of one who guards his mouth and his tongue from speaking forbidden things. First, he amends and sanctifies through this the unique “tool” of a Jew, which is speech. And all of the words that he speaks after that, in Torah and in tefilla ascend to the source of its root on high.

The Chofetz Chaim continues to explain that the the level of kedusha of our Torah learning is dependent on two things:
1. לְפִי הַהֲכָנָה שֶׁהָיָה לוֹ בָּעֵת הַהִיא, אִם הֵכִין אֶת עַצְמוֹ בָּעֵת הַהִיא בְּכָל כֹּחוֹתָיו לְקַיֵּם כְּפִי הַתּוֹרָה בְּכָל חֲלָקָיו וּפְרָטָיו שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לָזֶה. In accordance with the preparation that he exerts at this time– (meaning to determine) whether at that moment he exerts his full effort to fulfill the Torah in all of its details.
2. לְפִי כְּלֵי הָאֻמָּנוּת שֶׁעָשָׂה בָּהֶם הַתּוֹרָה, וְהֵם כְּלֵי הַדִּבּוּר, שֶׁאִם הֵם יָפִים וּמְהֻדָּרִים, שֶׁמִּשְׁתַּמְשִׁים בָּהֶם תָּמִיד לְטוֹב, וְעַל יְדֵי זֶה נִתְחַזֵּק ×›Ö¼Ö¹×—Ö· קְדֻשָּׁתָם In accordance with the tool that he uses for Torah, and that is the vessel of speech– whether it is beautiful and extraordinary, that he always uses it for the good, because through that he strengthens the kedusha…

If someone has the first element, but not the second, his learning will be diminished or dissolved. The Chofetz Chaim says:
אִם פּוֹגֵם וּמְטַמֵּא, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, אֶת ×›Ö¼Ö¹×—Ö· הַדִּבּוּר שֶׁלּוֹ, עַל יְדֵי לָשׁוֹן הָרָע וּרְכִילוּת וְלֵיצָנוּת וְשֶׁקֶר וְכַדּוֹמֶה וְלֹא יַעֲשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה, וְאַחַר כָּךְ יְדַבֵּר בְּפִיו דִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָה וּתְפִלָּה, אֵיזֶה ×›Ö¼Ö¹×—Ö· יֵשׁ בָּהֶן לְהַמְשִׁיךְ עַל הַתּוֹרָה וְהַתְּפִלָּה הַהִיא קְדֻשָּׁה עֶלְיוֹנָה, אַחֲרֵי שֶׁכְּלֵי הַמִּבְטָא שֶׁלּוֹ הֵם פְּגוּמִים וּטְמֵאִים בְּעַצְמָם מִכְּבָר If he, G-d forbid, makes his speech spoiled and impure through loshon hara, rechilus, levity, falsity, and similar things, and he does not do teshuva, and then speaks with his mouth words of Torah and prayer, what power will they have to draw sanctity to them after his “tools of speech” have been rendered defective and unclean?!

On Shavous, we all turn our thoughts to how we can increase our Torah learning, over Yom Tov and throughout the year. At the same time, let’s avail ourselves of the tool that will play a role in adding kedusha and siyata dishmaya to our learning. Think about how you can incorporate the learning of the halachos of shmiras haloshon into your daily schedule. May all of our learning emanate from pure tools of speech and rise to the highest of heights and may we be zocheh to eat from their fruits in this world and enjoy their full rewards in the next world. Good Yom Tov.

Yom Tov – Finding Our True Source of Happiness

R’ Itamar Shwartz
Download Rav Shwartz Shavous Talks here.

Defining The Joy of Yom Tov

The unique mitzvah of all three festivals is that we have a mitzvah to rejoice on Yom Tov. Chazal state that the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov (joy on the festival) is fulfilled through meat and wine.

Yom Tov is a revelation of our happiness, and it also shows us what makes us happy. The meat and wine only satisfies our nefesh habehaimis, the lower and animalistic part of our souls, but this is not the entire simcha of Yom Tov. It is only needed so that we can give something to our nefesh habehaimis to satisfy it, because if we don’t satisfy it, our nefesh habehaimis will rebel and get in the way of our true, inner happiness.

Therefore, if a person thinks that Simchas Yom Tov is all about dining on meat and wine, he only satisfies his nefesh habehaimis, and he only knows of an external and superficial Simchas Yom Tov. Woe is to such a person!

What is the real happiness of Yom Tov? The possuk says, “And you shall rejoice in your festival.” Our true happiness on Yom Tov is the happiness we have in Yom Tov itself. It is to rejoice with Hashem, Whom our soul is thirsty for. It is from this that we derive the depth of our happiness, on Yom Tov.

“The righteous rejoice in Hashem.” When a person lives a life of truth, when he lives a very internal kind of life, his entire happiness is “in Hashem.” He is happy “in” his feeling of closeness with Hashem and with His Torah – the place where true happiness is derived.

So Yom Tov, the time to rejoice, is the time in which we discover the happiness we are used to. It is a time to discover if our main happiness is coming from externalities such as meat and wine (for the men) jewelry and clothing (for the women) and candy (for the children) – or if our happiness is coming from an inner place. It is only inner happiness which satisfies our spiritual needs – our Nefesh HaElokus (G-dly soul).

Yom Tov is thus not just the time in which we rejoice, but it is a time in which we clarify to ourselves what our soul is really rejoicing in. On Yom Tov, we do not just attempt to ‘connect’ ourselves to happiness, as if happiness is somewhere on the outside of ourselves. The festivals are called regalim, which implies that we reveal from within ourselves where we are habitually drawn towards, where we really are.

When a person never makes this internal clarification – when he never bothers to search himself outside, and he never discovers what truly makes him happy – he is like a dove who cannot find any rest. Yom Tov to him will feel like a time of confusion; he is like the dove who could not find any rest from the mabul (the flood), which is from the word bilbul, confusion.

A person should cleanse himself off from the desires for this world’s pleasures and instead reveal his thirst for the true happiness.

Making This Assessment

When Yom Tov arrives, the first thing we need to clarify with ourselves is: If Yom Tov really makes us happy.

You should know that most people are not really happy on Yom Tov – not even for one second do they really experience Simchas Yom Tov! [This is not just because the Vilna Gaon says that the hardest mitzvah to keep is Simchas Yom Tov, due to the fact that it is for a 24-hour period lasting for seven days. We are referring to a much more simpler and basic level, which most people do not even reach].

Most people enjoy some moments of relaxation on Yom Tov, but they never reach one moment of true simcha. If someone experiences even one moment of Simchas Yom Tov, he has begun to touch the spiritual light of Yom Tov.

In order to reach true simcha on Yom Tov, we need to remove the various bad habits we have towards the various ambitions we have that are not about holiness. We must remove any “thirsts” we may have for things that are not truthful sources of pleasure. When we begin to feel our souls’ thirst for its source – Hashem – we will find our source of happiness there.

A person needs to discover: “What makes me happy?” If someone’s entire happiness on Yom Tov comes from meat and wine, then according to Halacha he has fulfilled Simchas Yom Tov; he has made his nefesh hebehaimis happy, but he did not reach the goal of Yom Tov; he did not reach “And you shall rejoice in your festival.” He hasn’t even touched upon the real happiness of Yom Tov.

The three festivals are called the regalim. They have the power to awaken us to spiritual growth, and to know what is making us happy. From knowing that, we are able to continue that very same happiness and extend it into the rest of the year.

Parshas Behar – Choose the Best

לעילוי נשמת מנחם בן משה הלוי

וְלֹ֤א תוֹנוּ֙ אִ֣ישׁ אֶת־עֲמִית֔וֹ וְיָרֵ֖אתָ מֵֽאֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ ×›Ö¼Ö´Ö›×™ אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם Do not oppress your fellow Jew, and fear your G-d because I am Hashem, your G-d. Rashi explains: כָּאן הִזְהִיר עַל אוֹנָאַת דְּבָרִים Here is a warning against onaas devarim. While there is, Baruch Hashem, a great emphasis on being careful not to speak Lashon Hora, there is, it seems, less of a broad emphasis on being careful about not speaking onaas devarim– words that oppress.

The mishna in Baba Metzia (58b) says: כשם שאונאה במקח וממכר כך אונאה בדברים לא יאמר לו בכמה חפץ זה והוא אינו רוצה ליקח אם היה בעל תשובה לא יאמר לו זכור מעשיך הראשונים אם הוא בן גרים לא יאמר לו זכור מעשה אבותיך Just as their is onaah (oppression) in buying and selling, there is onaah through words (for example) You should not ask someone how much something costs if you have no intention of buying it, if someone has done teshuva, do not remind him of his previous wrongful deeds, if someone is a son of converts, do not say to him, remember what your ancestors did. Onaas devarim is quite expansive and the gemara here provides several other examples ranging from the way we speak to those who have suffered a loss to how we address those seeking to purchase a certain item. The gemara points out that onaas devarim is even more severe than onaas mamon (onaah caused through commerce), in three ways:

1. The pasuk that prohibits onaas devarim concludes with the extra caution to fear G-d;
2. Onaas devarim affects one’s body while onaas mamon affects one’s money;
3. You can make restitution for onaas mamon, but you cannot make restitution for onaas devarim

Additionally, the gemara in Baba Metzia (59a) says: אמר רב חסדא כל השערים ננעלים חוץ משערי אונאה Rav Chisda said that all of the gates (of heaven) are closed except for the gate of onaah. The Chofetz Chaim explains that this is so that those who are oppressed by words will have a means of being repaired. This gemara also explains that oppressing someone with words is one of the three sins that go up directly to Hashem.

The midrash Vayikra Rabbah on the pesukim of onaah brings this story: אָמַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל לְטָבִי עַבְדֵיהּ פּוּק זְבֵין לִי צֵדוּ טָבָא מִן שׁוּקָא, נָפַק זָבַן לֵיהּ לִשָּׁן, אָמַר לֵיהּ פּוּק זְבֵין לִי צֵדוּ בִּישָׁא מִן שׁוּקָא, נָפַק זָבַן לֵיהּ לִשָּׁן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ מַהוּ דֵּין דְּכַד אֲנָא אָמַר לָךְ צֵדוּ טָבָא אַתְּ זָבַן לִי לִשָּׁן, וְכַד אֲנָא אֲמַר לָךְ צֵדוּ בִּישָׁא אַתְּ זָבַן לִי לִשָּׁן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ מִינָּהּ טָבְתָּא וּמִינָהּ בִּישְׁתָּא, כַּד הֲוָה טַב לֵית טָבָה מִנֵּיהּ, וְכַד

בִּישׁ לֵית בִּישׁ מִנֵּיהּ. רַבִּי עָשָׂה סְעוּדָה לְתַלְמִידָיו, הֵבִיא לִפְנֵיהֶם לְשׁוֹנוֹת רַכִּים וּלְשׁוֹנוֹת קָשִׁים, הִתְחִילוּ
בּוֹרְרִין בָּרַכִּים וּמַנִּיחִין הַקָּשִׁים, אָמַר לָהֶם דְּעוּ מָה אַתֶּם עוֹשִׂין כְּשֵׁם שֶׁאַתֶּם בּוֹרְרִין אֶת הָרַכִּין וּמַנִּיחִין אֶת הַקָּשִׁים כָּךְ יִהְיֶה לְשׁוֹנְכֶם רַךְ אֵלּוּ לָאֵלּוּ Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said to Tavi his servant: go buy for me the best food from the marketplace. He went and bought him a tongue. He said to him: go buy for me the worst food from the marketplace. He went and bought him a tongue. He said to him: What’s this? When I say to you “the best food”, you buy me a tongue, and when I say to you “the worst food”, you buy me tongue. He said to him, this is the best and this is the worst. When it is good, there is nothing better than it, and when it is bad, there is nothing worse than it. Rabi made a meal for his students, and brought before them soft tongues and hard tongues. They immediately chose the soft tongues and left the tough tongues alone. He said to them, Understand what you are doing. Just as you are choosing the soft [tongues] and leaving aside the tough ones, so shall your own tongues be with one another. Our “tongues” have a dual potential, they can be the best things or the worst things. Choose to be the best.

We are familiar that the isur of Lashon Hora is not limited to the spoken word. It also includes facial expressions, winking, frowning, etc. The Sefer Yere’im similarly extends onaas devarim to facial expressions. The Alter of Slabodka was known to say that a person’s face is a reshus harabbim, an area open to the public. If someone walks around with a sullen face, he can be considered a mazik, a damager, because he oppresses others and causes them
to be sad. On the other hand, if someone follows the advice of Pirkei Avos and greets everyone with a kind face, both he and they will be happier and he will avoid any potential damage to them. Choose to be the best. Greet everyone with a kind countenance.

THE TAKEAWAY: Onaas Devarim– speaking words that oppress others, even when they might not be Lashon Hora or Rechilus, is an aveira that is more severe than onaas mamon, oppressing someone in the course of commerce. Our speech has the greatest potential, for both the bad and the good and we need to choose the good. The Sefer Yereim extends onaas devarim to facial expressions.

THIS WEEK: Even when you aren’t feeling one hundred percent, do your best to greet others with a smile and a cheerful countenance. This doesn’t mean that you cannot unburden yourself to others in halachically permissible ways. It means that when you are not discussing the things that have gotten you down, there’s no reason to cause others pain or discontent. Choose to be the best, one smile at a time.

Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

Lag B’Omer – Inner Bonfire

Rav Itamar Schwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Growth In Soul, Time, and Place

Generally speaking, there are three ways how one can receive spiritual growth: through his soul, through certain times, or through certain places.[1]

1) Soul – If a person grows spiritually through the soul, it means that he has succeeded in inspiring himself to receive new levels of spiritual growth. This can happen either through directly inspiring his own soul, or if he hears others who inspire him.

2) Time – When a person receives spiritual growth because of certain times, it is because there are special spiritual gifts contained in those times that allow for growth; examples of this are Shabbos and Yom Tov. Time-based growth can affect the person as well and help him grow spiritually, even if the person hasn’t yet managed to elevate his soul to the point that he can attain this growth independently.

3) Place – A person can also receive a spiritual boost by being exposed to a certain place – for example, by going to a holy place, such as Eretz Yisrael, or a holy burial site of a tzaddik[2].

These are the three general ways of how a person can receive spiritual growth [later ir will be mentioned that one can also receive growth from another person, such as being inspired by another person, or by a tzaddik, or from hearing an inspirational person].

The Advantage of Growth In Soul Vs. Growth Through Time and Place

However, there is a fundamental difference between receiving growth from one’s soul [which is more direct], with receiving growth from time or a place [which are external factors]: When a person attains growth from his own soul, he has reached the new levels on his own, and this results in a more permanent change for the soul.

Of course, even when a person attains growth via his soul, he can still have ups and downs from his level, but it will only be a temporary fall, for he has ultimately achieved a new level for his soul via his inner exertion to get there. It will have become easier for him to get back to that newly attained level, because he still has within him the root to get there, now that he has acquired it within himself.

In contrast, any spiritual growth attained from a certain time or place is external only, and it will be dependent on the holiness of the time or place. It is also temporary and therefore it does not retain the same permanence as soul-based growth.

Though people may feel temporarily elated after visiting certain holy places, they often soon resume their routine life [and sink back to their previous spiritual level]. When a time of growth is over – for example, when Shabbos or Yom Tov ends – or when a person leaves a certain holy place, the actual spiritual effects of the holiness fade. He is only left with a certain impression of the previous growth, a shadow or reminder of what he once reached and what he could yet achieve. We can see it clearly. People go to certain holy places and feel spiritual elation there, but after that, they go back to their routine life, and all of the inspiration is forgotten.

When spiritual growth comes from a certain time or place, it is similar to when a person becomes spiritually uplifted by another person. Since the other person’s inspiration is external, the effect is more likely to be temporary unless a person works hard to integrate it into his own soul. When the other person leaves, the spiritual effect often dissipates.

Tools To Maintain Inspiration

Thus, a person’s avodah (inner task) is two-fold. He can reach higher levels of internal spiritual growth by working hard on himself and using tools that can assist with permanent change. He can also realize that any lasting benefits of growth dependent on external holiness (time, place or person) may be fleeting and merely provide a temporary impression unless he works hard to integrate it through corresponding internal spiritual work.

There are pros and cons to being inspired by external factors such as holy people, times or places. The pros are that a person is able to receive a much higher spiritual boost than his current level. One can still receive those great levels, relatively quickly, without working hard to elevate one’s soul. On the other hand, the disadvantage of external spiritual elevation is that a person will struggle to maintain the high level after the holy time, place or person has disappeared. A person may experience frustration when recalling his temporary boost and at his failing to maintain it afterwards.

This is a very subtle but important point, which, when one is aware of it, it can cause misconception. A person may experience great elation on a certain Shabbos and feel that he has ascended spiritually. However, what happens on Sunday? He remembers how he felt on Shabbos, and then he tries to relive the spiritual high. However, since his spiritual growth in this instance was sourced purely from a holy day [and it wasn’t matched with corresponding internal growth], the effects will dissipate with time; trying to recreate Shabbos on Sunday when we have not grown internally is living in a fantasy world.

Certainly it is possible for us to feel the spirituality of Shabbos even on Sunday, but only if one has worked on himself to a point where he is able to reach the levels independently, and by acquiring the inner tools that would enable him to maintain the level of Shabbos for afterwards. Without either of these two factors, then after Shabbos a person is only left with a faint “imprint” of Shabbos. This ‘imprint’[3] can certainly instill in him a burning desire to return to those moments of elation, but one will still need to implement these two points in order for the spiritual growth to stay with him.

When a person is aware that all the levels he has reached is only through his mental capacities (mochin\mind) – meaning, he is aware that these are all temporary moments of elation, but that they haven’t yet been etched into his soul – then he views these levels as something delightful which Hashem has given to him, and he also views them as an ‘indicator’ that shows he has grown spiritually. But if a person overdoes the “indicator” and is always thinking about these levels, when really hasn’t yet acquired them – he is just imagining things. Usually, this problem exists by people who became very inspired from reading a sefer or when they hear a Torah tape.

When it comes to growth we receive from times or places, the danger [of self-delusion] is greater. This is because at the time that the person felt the spiritual growth – such as Shabbos – there was a true feeling, and it is hard for a person to free himself from the intensity of the feelings he remembers. Yesterday, the feeling was there, but today, the feeling is gone.

We can give a simple example that helps us understand this idea very well. On Sukkos, a person shakes his lulav and esrog. If someone comes to shul on Chanukah with his lulav and esrog, he would be a laughingstock. Everything has its time and place. Yet, those who have yet to internalize and maintain the spiritual growth of the holy days throughout the rest of the year are dependent on the spiritual boost of the external, physical mitzvos. Their spiritual level is reliant on these physical times, places and actions so they yearn to connect this way all year or at inappropriate times.

Heart Matters Are Not Understood Every Day

To what will this apply to? In the coming lines, we will discuss a point that is really above our level. We must realize that the coming concepts are really above our level, for we have not acquired them yet.

On Lag Ba’omer, the spiritual gifts contained in this day are that the “gates of wisdom are opened”. This essentially means that that one’s soul on this day can receive levels which he normally can’t absorb. But we must understand that the levels we can attain on this day are temporary and they only last for the day of Lag Ba’omer.

At first glance, this may sound strange. One might say, “If I have already comprehended it, how can it be that I will lose my comprehension of it?! If you told me yesterday that two plus one is three, then why would I forget about this the next day?!”

But that is the mistake. The soul’s wisdom does not refer to intellectual matters; rather, it refers to words that come alive in one’s inner world of the soul. Intellect and understanding are not the same thing. Intellect is referred to as seichel, while understanding, havanah, is avanta d’liba (“understanding of the heart”). There are many smart people in the world, but knowing something with your brain is not the same thing as absorbing something in your heart; there is a very big difference between the mind’s intellectual knowledge and the heart’s knowledge, understanding.

Thus, if a person is aware in advance that whatever he reaches on Lag Ba’omer will not last when it ends, then he will know how to receive the spirituality of this day properly. He will be less likely to lose heart when the levels he has attained on this day inevitably disappear, and less likely to pressure that it was supposed to remain permanently. Instead, one will simply have an inner push to return to these levels and internalize them [by doing the soul work that is involved].

This is possibly the meaning of the statement in Chazal that “Every day, the words of Torah should be to you like new.” What does this mean? A lot of ink has been spent on explaining this. But it appears to mean that even if you understood something yesterday, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will understand it tomorrow. A matter may have entered your intellect, but has not yet been cemented in your heart. Sometimes the next day brings additional understanding deeper than the previous day’s level, if one has managed to purify oneself in the interim.

We are referring to deep, subtle matters which must be lived, in order to be understood and internalized. We are often familiar with only an intellectual understanding of a matter, which is usually permanently retained. In contrast, heart understanding is unique in that it is not anchored in the heart in the same way as intellectual knowledge is anchored in the brain. Thus, with heart understanding, there is a risk that its gain will merely be temporary and ephemeral (unless we do constant, inner avodah to maintain it).

This distinction is crucial to understanding the wisdom of the Creator. Our intellect is cold, simple, and rational. In contrast, heart matters, such as searching for Godliness, are a “burning fire”. Only the heart can understand Godly matters. And the heart is accessed through avanta d’liba, an inner understanding, which can only be accessed during certain times.

The Mystery of Remembering Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

We will speak a little about what is relevant for Lag Ba’Omer, but as we said before, we should remember that it’s only relevant for Lag Ba’Omer; after this day passes, we are left with nothing but a ‘mark’ from it. Therefore, a person should not attempt to grow further from that ‘mark’ after Lag Ba’Omer ends, and if he does, he should be warned in the same way that the people were warned not to ascend Har Sinai when Moshe was receiving the Torah.

It is somewhat of a mystery. Throughout all the generations, there were many Gedolim and tzaddikim who are not remembered so much on their yahrtzeit[4]. People remember the yahrtzeit of Dovid HaMelech[5], but there is almost no one who knows what day of the calendar the yahrtzeit of our own Avos (forefathers) is. There are all kinds of traditions that state which days of the year they died on, but for some reason, there is no clarity in this matter. Only one tzaddik, who came much than the Avos – the Sage, Rav Shimon Bar Yochai – is so remembered. Everyone goes to his grave on this day (Lag Ba’Omer). Why does he get so much attention, more than all the other tzaddikim?

We should think about this. If we are rejoicing in something and we don’t know what to rejoice about, then such rejoicing is superficial; our happiness has to come from our soul, or else it is just by rote and will not amount to anything. So we must know what we are rejoicing about on Lag Ba’Omer.

The Special Time of Lag Ba’Omer

It is written in Koheles (3:1), “For every time.” Chazal comment on this that there was a time for Adam to enter Gan Eden, and there was a time for him to leave Gan Eden; there was a time for Noach to enter the Ark, and there was a time for him to leave the Ark. There was a time for Avraham to be circumcised, and there was a time for him to circumcise his children.”

We can learn from this Midrash that long before Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai passed away on Lag Ba’omer, this day was already sanctified. Thus, our outlook on this day doesn’t have to begin with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai definitely brought the meaning of this special time into the dimension of the soul as well, because long before he lived, this day was already precious. It was a day that inherently contained inherent spiritual gifts.

Let us now reflect: what is the inner meaning of this day?

Lag Ba’Omer and Amalek

Lag Ba’omer falls out on the 18th of the month of Iyar. The gematria (numerical value in Lashon HaKodesh[6]) of the word “Iyar”,[7] together with the number 18[8], is equal to the word “Amalek”.[9] In other words, there is a connection between Amalek and this day. Soon, we will explain the connection.

Sadness – Not Connected To The Root

Whenever a person is sad, this really comes from the fact that he isn’t connected to a root. He is like a branch disconnected from its root. The root has a ‘root’ as well to it: the lack of connection between the person and Hashem. By contrast, happiness is when there is connection to our Source.

It is written, “With hardship shall you bear children.” The pain of child labor is called “etzev”, which can also mean “sadness”. Birth is a separation of the baby from its mother; when the baby was in its mother, it is considered part of the mother. Now, it has disconnected from its mother – this is the “etzev”\sadness of giving birth.

Childbirth, and the etzev which follows it, reflects the concept that a person has to be integrated with his Source. The purpose of man is to integrate himself with his root, and keep connecting himself to his roots until he arrives at the root of all roots, the Creator.

On Yom Tov we have a mitzvah to be happy. Yom Tov is “moed”, which comes from the word “vaad” – a meeting. When there is a meeting, there is connection, and thus there is happiness.

The Meaning Behind the Bonfires

There is a minhag[10] on Lag B’Omer to light bonfires. We don’t just light small fires like we light for Shabbos and Yom Tov. We light big fires – bonfires, which are called “lehavah” in Hebrew.

The inner meaning of this is to show us that we need to have a big “fire”, a lehavah, in our hearts, for Hashem. If a person has this inner fire, he is inwardly connected to Lag Ba’Omer. If a person is just lighting physical bonfires, but his soul is cold inside, he is not truly celebrating Lag Ba’Omer.

It is written, “The house of Yaakov will be a fire, and the house of Yosef will be a big flame.” This is referring to the inner layer of a Jew’s soul, the burning desire for Hashem. At first there is a small fire, and then it becomes a huge flame, a lehavah. When a person increases his inner fire for Hashem until it is a big flame, then he can integrate with Hashem.

In other words, bonfires on this day are not just superficial acts of lighting big fires. It is meant to remind us of our innermost point of the soul, which is like a great, fiery desire to be connected with Hashem.

Countering The ‘Separation’ Caused By Amalek: Connecting To Hashem

It is well-known that the evil force of “Amalek” causes disparity in Creation. Chazal say that Amalek attacked us in Refidim, from the words “rafu y’deihem b’Torah”, implying that “our hands were weak in Torah”. When a person’s hands go weak, he loses connection to what he is holding. Our hands were weak then in “holding” the Torah – there was a weakening in our connection to Torah; and that enabled Amalek to attack us.

Torah is called “words of fire”[11]- the Torah is a ‘fire’, but we on our own must turn it into a big flame, a “lehavah”. This is referring to the concept of becoming totally integrated with Hashem.[12]

The power that is inherent in the day of Lag Ba’Omer is essentially the power to become connected to the Creator – the opposite of Amalek’s agenda, who wants to cause us to be separate from the Creator. This is also the inner meaning of what it means to “erase Amalek” from our midst, and thereby remove its evil. The “great flame” that can be reached on this day – integrating one’s self with Hashem – is what can prevent Amalek from coming to weaken us.

Amalek weakened our “hands” in Torah. What does this mean? When our hands become weak, we lose connection to what we are holding; thus there was a weakening in our connection to Torah. But why is this part of the body chosen to symbolize our connection to Torah? Don’t we learn Torah with our mouths and minds, not our hands?

The answer to this is that there are two points contained here. On one level, a person can only connect to something with his “hands” – in other words, when he is holding onto it. You use your hands to hold onto something, such as a person who is drowning and catches a piece of wood to hold onto. Thus the “weakened hands” in Torah meant a lack of connection to Torah.

On another level, the Zohar states that Torah without fiery feelings of love and awe of Hashem does not ascend to Heaven. In other words, although the generation was learning Torah, they were lacking a certain connection to it; they weren’t connecting themselves to Hashem through it. Amalek “weakening our hands” in Torah meant that the force of Amalek can disconnect a person from the root of his Torah learning: Hashem.

The Power Contained In Lag Ba’Omer: Overcoming Doubt

The power contained in this day [Lag Ba’Omer] is essentially the ability for a person to remove himself from all the obstacles that hold him back from closeness to the Creator.

The main obstacle which holds us back from being close to Hashem is the force of Amalek, as is well-known. Amalek’s power thrives on safek (doubt). When a person has doubts about something, he cannot connect to it, as a result.

To illustrate, consider a person who comes to a crossroads and is faced with choice of following one of two paths. If this person chooses one path but lacks certainty and thinks in his heart the whole time: “I’m not sure about what I’m doing…”, he cannot be properly connected to the path he is taking. Even if he made the right choice, his doubt and uncertainty block him from connecting to it. In contrast, when a person is confident in himself and his purpose and role and choice, he is able to connect to what he does.

Doubts prevent a person from truly connecting to Hashem in an inner way. Even if a person is taking the right path towards Hashem, if he is doubtful about what he’s doing, then that means he is not really connected to the path he is taking, which means he is not really connected with Hashem.

How can a person leave doubt and enter into the inner world of the spiritual? A person needs to become sure about the truth that he knows about! This will eradicate his doubts. How can a person become absolutely sure about the inner truths? The truth is actually very clear. When a person understands it, it is then that he leaves all the doubts.

Hashem Is Here, There, and Everywhere

Compare this to a person who wants to get from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak. He doesn’t know if he should go right or left or straight ahead. Whichever way he takes, he is doubtful, because he has no idea if he will end up in Bnei Brak. But once a person is in Bnei Brak, he has no doubts about where to go – because he is there. This is because if you’re there, you don’t have doubts about where you are.

A person must realize that in whatever “derech” (path) he takes, all of the many different paths essentially bring him to this one and only point: Hashem! There is no such thing as a valid “path” that doesn’t bring you to Hashem. It doesn’t matter if a person is happy, sad, or suffering; all of these are situations that, in the end, can bring you closer to Hashem.

So what are people not sure about? A person knows that Hashem is at the end of the path, but he’s not sure if he’s taking the right path. He may be thinking, “Who says it’s the right path for me…?”

The deep perspective is for a person to realize that Hashem is found everywhere, in every situation, and therefore, he has nothing to be doubtful about. He doesn’t doubt the ‘path’ he is taking which will lead him to the truth, because he is secure in the knowledge that all paths lead to the Creator, for the goal is always to reach closeness with the Creator.

Above The Perspective of ‘Pesach Sheini’

Lag B’Omer often falls out within the seven days of the time period known as “Pesach Sheini” (observed on the 14th of Iyar). When we had the Beis Mikdash and we were able to bring korbonos, there was a mitzvah of Pesach Sheini, for those who were ritually impure on Pesach and couldn’t bring the korbon pesach on the 14th of Nissan; or for those who didn’t make it to Jerusalem on time for Yom Tov. Those who didn’t make it were held back due to the ‘place’ they were in, whereas those who were impure were held back due to the situation of their soul – they were distant from Hashem, thus couldn’t come.

But there is an inner point in which one can know and feel in his soul that Hashem resides inside him, always, even when he in a state of impurity. Such a person had no need for Pesach Sheini. In the physical world, a person needed Pesach Sheini if he was ritually impure, but in the inner world of the soul, once a person comes to the recognition of feeling Hashem in his soul, he doesn’t need “Pesach Sheini” there. This, the fact that Lag B’Omer always falls out within the “seven days of Pesach Sheini” and it reveals a certain heavenly light: that Hashem is found even amidst our state of impurity (just like there are seven days of the first Pesach, so is there a concept that there are seven days of the second Pesach).

“There Is No Place That Is Empty From Him”

When a person is aware that Hashem is found even in the lowest place where he has fallen to, he doesn’t need any “hands” to lift himself up.

If a person thinks simply that “Hashem is Heaven, but I live on this earth”, and that he must try to somehow ‘ascend’ to Heaven – then he will need his “hands” to lift himself upwards [and he won’t be able to get there]. But when a person knows clearly that Hashem is found in any place – for “There is no place empty from Him” – then even when he has fallen low, he can still arrive at a point of clarity in which he sees how Hashem is there at any place, time or situation. There is no amount of spiritual impurity that will be able to get him to have any doubts about this.

We rectify the evil of Amalek in Creation, essentially, by realizing how Hashem is with us even when we are in a lowly situation. Hashem is found with us even as we are amongst the lowest levels of impurity – even Amalek.

Thus, practically speaking, in order to gain from this day of Lag B’Omer, we need to search for the Creator – and because He is everywhere, we can find Him at any moment, in any place, and in any time.

May we merit to arrive at the innermost point – the “lehavah”, the “great flame” that iswithin us, represented by the bonfires we light, which can remind us of a burning desire for Hashem; and may we merit the Redemption, speedily.[13]

[1] This is based on the concept of “Olam, Shanah, Nefesh” (World, Time, and Soul) – everything exists in three dimensions: place, time, and soul [Sefer Yetzirah, III]

[2] Note from the sefer: (the sefarim hakedoshim mentioned that a tzaddik’s grave is as holy as if it were in Eretz Yisrael, even if it is outside Eretz Yisrael),

[3] In Hebrew, “roishem”

[4] memorial day

[5] Shavuos

[6] The Holy Tongue

[7] 221

[8] 221+18 = 239

[9] The word “Amalek” is equal to 240. (As is well-known, in the system of Gematria, the word itself counts as one)

[10] custom

[11] Yirmiyahu 23:29

[12] “hiskalelus” – integrating

[13] Editor’s Note: As a supplement to this derashah, refer to Fixing Your Fire_006_Conceit_Handling Inspiration

The Maharal’s Understanding of Lechem Oni

On Shabbos HaGadol, my Rav’s drasha focused on the issues of using 2 or 3 matzos when making Brochos for HaMotzie and Achilas Matzah on Pesach. The complications come in because we are using Lechem Oni. The Gemora in Pesachim 115b has three explanations of the term “Lechem Oni”, one of which is that at the seder we should eat a piece of Matzah like a poor person.

I was bothered by the fact that the Torah itself discusses our progression from slavery to freedom. So why did the sages introduce the symbolism of a poor person with all the accompanying halachic complications?

I Googled for a possible answer and I was delighted to see that Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, Dean and Rosh Yeshiva at Shapell’s/Darche Noam came up in the search with this link. We have been privileged to post a number of insightful articles by Rabbi Karlinsky on Beyond BT over the years. After reading the article I was thrilled, because it answered my question, and presents us with a new understanding of Lechem Oni based on the writings of the Maharal. I emailed Rabbi Karlinsky for permission to post the article and he quickly responded so we can all benefit from the insight of the Maharal on this central Pesach theme as explained by Rabbi Karlinsky.

Pesach Matzah: Bread of Poverty, Bread of Freedom
Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky

A common term used in the Haggadah to describe matzah is “lechem oni.” It is usually translated as “the bread of affliction,” or “the bread of poverty.” This explanation is based on the the Ramban’s commentary on Devarim (16:2) (and reflected in most commentaries on the Haggadah) which says that poor people eat this kind of bread, and the Egyptians fed it to the Jewish people as slaves.

The Maharal strongly disagrees with this interpretation, saying we have no source that the Jews ate matzah while enslaved in Egypt. In fact, a verse in the Torah indicates the opposite. “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt, free of charge” (Bamidbar 11:5). Furthermore, it says (Devarim 16:3) “Don’t eat leavened bread with [the Pesach offering]; seven days shall you eat…matzah, the bread of poverty, for in haste you left Egypt.” If the Jews ate matzah as slaves, why is “leaving Egypt in haste” given as a reason for the commandment to eat it!? And if matzah is the bread of POVERTY, why is it associated with emancipation and redemption, which reflects freedom and wealth?

A poor person, who lacks all money and possessions, reflects the basic minimum for human existence. This person has nothing outside of himself, and his identity – that of a poor person -is independent of anything except himself. Matzah is called the bread of poverty because it, too, has nothing besides the basic minimum for its existence, flour and water. Any enhancement, whether it be yeast, sugar, or even “time”, adds something to the dough beyond the bare minimum, and it is not matzah, not bread of poverty.

Slavery means to be controlled by forces outside of yourself and your essence, whether it be by the expectations of others, physical dependencies, or personal insecurities. Redemption means emancipating yourself from that control, becoming independent of any external forces or dependencies. A slave is dependent on and controlled by his master. A wealthy person, too, lacks a dimension of independence, since his identity is the result of, and dependent on, his attachment to his money and possessions. So much of his life is controlled by that wealth, while a poor person, having nothing but himself, stands completely separate and independent from anything outside of himself. He represents the concept of redemption and freedom, even if his life in the material world has limitations.

Matzah doesn’t represent poverty. Rather it represents the process of becoming independent. Independence is acquired by removing any bonds or dependencies on things outside of oneself. This is the process of redemption. Therefore, G-d commanded us to eat matzah on the night of the exodus from Egypt. Just as the poor person has nothing beyond his basic existence, on the night of the departure from Egypt we eat the bread composed of the most basic ingredients, at the time when we are acquiring redemption and freedom. We need to leave the control of anything outside of our essence, and we eat bread that contains nothing but the essence necessary for its being.

We now have a new way of understanding the verses commanding us to eat matzah. “Seven days shall you eat…matzah, the bread of poverty, for in haste you left Egypt”: Eat bread which stands independent of anything besides its essence. Why? Because you left Egypt in haste. Haste implies no time delay. A process delayed over time includes an enhancement to the essence of the process, while true redemption is built on unloading everything but the essence. The Jewish people didn’t leave the bondage of Egypt through a natural, historical process, which takes time. Their redemption was an instantaneous Divine process, with direct emancipation by G-d Himself, Who transcends the limitations of time. Therefore, chametz was prohibited, since it represents a process which requires time, while we are commanded to eat matzah, which comes into being “without time.”

The Maharal concludes with the following summary. A poor person is one who has nothing. This is a handicap in our material world, which operates with a system of acquisition and relationships. However, simplicity and independence is a virtue in a system which transcends the material. On the night of Pesach, the Jewish people needed redemption. However, it wasn’t a redemption that could evolve from within the material system, but rather from a higher, transcendent source. Therefore, they were commanded to eat matzah, which is a bread of simplicity, since it has only the basic components, with nothing combined with it.

This concept of simplicity is illustrated by the High Priest who serves all year with clothes of gold, and on Yom Kippur enters the Holy of Holies in pure white clothes. He is acquiring the highest level attainable, one of simplicity, lacking connection to anything beyond the essence, which is represented by white, the purest and simplest color.

This is the meaning of the verse “Seven days shall you eat…matzah, the bread of poverty, for in haste you left Egypt.” Their departure in haste, with no process extending over time, indicated that they left in an elevated state, with the activity of redemption transcending time, in a supernatural way. Therefore, it was fitting to eat bread of poverty, which has no combinations, but is bread in its simplest and most independent form.

Of course, a person needs possessions to exist in the material world in which we live, and one who has money can accomplish things not available to a person without money. This is what the Maharal means in the previous paragraph when he describes the limitations of a poor person. But our possessions aren’t our essence, and we can’t let them become “us.” How often do we allow our financial success, our social status, or the opinions of others define who we are? None of these things are our essence.

The matzah on Pesach is to teach us that redemption, true freedom, means to be free from external dependencies that control us. Matzah, as bread of poverty, teaches us to connect with our essence. All year we eat chametz, rather than limiting ourselves to matzah, just as the Kohen Gadol goes into the Holy of Holies only once a year, serving the rest of the time in the main part of the Temple in gold clothes. We operate all year in a material world, one of chametz. But just as the Kohen Gadol’s annual entrance into the Holy of Holies in the purest white represents the essence of his service all year, the week of Pesach, with our diet of matzah, defines the essence of our interaction with the material world for the rest of the year. When we can declare independence from everything except our essence, then all the other resources available to us can be used to enhance that essence, rather than create artificial dependencies and enslavement. This is the difference between slavery and dependence on the one hand, and true freedom and redemption on the other.

May this month of redemption bring us true freedom!

Parshas Metzora – Fly Little Birdie

Shmira BaShuvua – Shmiras HaLashon Lessons from the Weekly Parsha

Someone who spoke lashon hara and was afflicted with tzaras was exiled from the three camps of the Bnei Yisrael. Once the metzora’s skin appears to have healed, a kohein would come to investigate. If he determined that the skin had indeed healed, the kohein would command the metzora to prepare a very unique korban וְצִוָּה֙ הַכֹּהֵ֔ן וְלָקַ֧ח לַמִּטַּהֵ֛ר שְׁתֵּֽי־צִפֳּרִ֥ים חַיּ֖וֹת טְהֹר֑וֹת וְעֵ֣ץ אֶ֔רֶז וּשְׁנִ֥י תוֹלַ֖עַת וְאֵז:–Then the kohen shall command that the one who wishes to be purified take two live clean birds, a cedar twig, a strip of crimson, and hyssop. Many meforshim discuss each of the individual elements of this korban, but we will focus on the two birds.

Rashi on this pusek references the gemara in Arachin (16b) אמר רבי יהודה בן לוי מה נשתנה מצורע שאמרה תורה יביא {ויקרא י״ד:ד׳ } שתי ציפרים לטהרתו אמר הקב”×” הוא עושה מעשה פטיט לפיכך אמרה תורה יביא קרבן פטיט -Rabbi Yehuda ben Levi says: What is different about a metzora that the Torah tell us that two birds are needed for his purification? Hakodesh Baruch Hu says: he performed an action of chattering, therefore the Torah tells him to bring a chattering korban (birds). This gemara seems to provide an explanation in line with the explanation of the other elements of the korban (according to Rashi) with each item being included for a symbolic reason–either to emphasize the sin of haughtiness or to teach the lesson of humility. But there’s another curious thing about the bird offering, the Torah tells us: וְצִוָּה֙ הַכֹּהֵ֔ן וְשָׁחַ֖ט אֶת־הַצִּפּ֣וֹר הָאֶחָ֑ת -And the kohen commands that one of the birds be slaughtered… וְשִׁלַּ֛ח אֶת־הַצִּפֹּ֥ר ×”Ö·Ö½×—Ö·×™Ö¼Ö¸Ö–×” עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַשָּׂדֶֽה… -and they send away the live bird on to the land. One of the birds was slaughtered and the other had to be left alive and set free.

HaRav Shlomo Ganzfried, the mechaber of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, in his Sefer Apiryon explains why one bird is slaughtered and the other is set free. There are two sides to speech. There is the type of speech that damages, destroys, brings impurity, blocks our tefillah and Torah learning, and literally kills. Then there is the type of speech that is literally life altering and life giving: words of torah and tefillah, the kind word to someone who is struggling, the ways we honor our parents, teachers and fellow Jews with speech. HaRav Ganzfried is teaching us an important lesson: the solution to avoiding lashon hara is not to stop talking, it’s to learn how to use your speech in the proper way. Hashem gave us the power of speech to connect to him and our fellow man and to literally build worlds. He doesn’t want us to leave that most precious tool in the garage, he wants us to use it and use it properly.

On the occasion of the shloshim of the Chofetz Chaim someone close to the family wrote a eulogy using the pseudonym Machar HaLevi. The Chofetz Chaim’s son, Rav Aryeh Leib haKohen vouched for its veracity and included it in his biography of his father, Sefer Toldos Chofetz Chaim. Machar HaLevi says that when he was in the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin, he used to ask himself what it was about the Chofetz Chaim that made him so choshuv. After all, his son-in-law, Rav Hirsh, seemed to be a greater tzadik than the Chofetz Chaim (if you could imagine). Indeed, Rav Hirsh was considered to be even more strict with his speech than the Chofetz Chaim, he barely spoke at all while the Chofetz Chaim spoke very often. Machar HaLevi explains that he only later realized why the Chofetz Chaim was much greater– kosher speech without a tinge of sin is more difficult and more valuable than remaining silent at all times. He adds that mute-like behavior isolates one from those around him and makes the person depressed. It is also considered a form of miserliness because it withholds so much good from others.

Speech, he continued, is a gift that Hashem gave us to distinguish us from the animals, and a person is not permitted to make himself like an animal or to spurn a gift from Hashem. Proper speech, of course, has its place in torah and tefillah but also in mundane things like business and learning new, proper ideas. The goal is to guard your tongue when speaking and not to refrain from speaking completely.

THE TAKEAWAY: There are two types of speech, the forbidden type of speech that destroys and the type of speech that builds relationships with Hashem, our fellow Jews, and the world around us. Simply refraining from talking at all times is not a solution to the challenges we may be facing in our shmiras halashon.

THIS WEEK: Focus on “lashon tov”, greet others with a kind word, provide verbal chizuk to someone who is struggling, use your speech to honor others, and before you speak think about how your speech can have an impact for good, or chas veshalom, the opposite.

Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com.

Beyond Vertlach – Key Points of the Seder

The Seder is just around the corner and it’s a great time to start preparing. Divrei Torah and vertlach at the Seder are wonderful, but it’s important to focus on the key points of the seder. A friend of mine developed this overview of the “Key Points of the Seder”.

Here’s are the Key Points of the Seder in text:

1) Tell the Detailed Story – Sippur Yetzias Mitzraim

2) Use Imagery & Details to Really Live/Feel It

3) Strengthen Your Emunah
a. Hashem Exists
b. Hashem is Directly Involved – Hashgacha Pratis
c. Hashem is One – No Other

4) Feel the Gratitude – Hakaros HaTov

5) Give Thanks, Sing, Praise – L’Hodos, L’Hallel, L’Shevach

6) Serve Hashem with Love, Joy and Enthusiasm

Download the one page graphic here.

Preparing for Pesach is Part of our Avodas Hashem

Rav Itamar Schwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of amazing Drashos on the month of Nisan and Pesach

In whatever time or situation we are in, we should always be aware that it is an inseparable part of our avodas Hashem. It doesn’t matter if it is something that has to do with ruchniyus (spirituality) or not or if it is something more mundane. Wherever we are, whatever the situation, it is somehow part of our avodas Hashem.

We must wonder in every situation: how is a Jew supposed to go about this?

In these weeks, the frum world, who keep Torah and mitzvos, is very careful to clean the house scrupulously from any trace of chametz. We have a commandment in the Torah to make sure that we do not see or find any chametz in our house; but this mitzvah has much to it which seemingly has nothing to do with Pesach.

Upon reflection, we will be able to see how preparing for Pesach is part of our avodas Hashem, and how through it we can bring ourselves to be closer to Hashem.

“Melumadah” – Acting By Rote

There is a simple point that we must all know and be aware of. This simple point is that we can find Hashem in anything – without exception!

1) When a person begins to clean his house for Pesach, he first has to get rid of the “melumadah” – the tendency to do things by rote. We are not simply cleaning out the house for Pesach “because we have to clean.” Why are you cleaning for Pesach? Because that’s what you did last year and the year before it?! That is not the reason.

2) We all know that to clean the house for Pesach is a mitzvah of the Torah, but what are our thoughts as we do this? If a person doesn’t stop to think, he is only bothered by questions such as: What is the best way to clean the house? What needs to cleaned, and how much? The whole relationship with Hashem is lost with all these questions.

So first, we must get rid of our tendency to just to things without thinking. We must realize that preparing for Pesach is purely avodas Hashem. After we know this we can begin to know how it is avodas Hashem, but the first step is this: don’t just do it like a robot. Just like we understand that learning and davening is avodas Hashem, so must we be aware that preparing for Pesach is avodas Hashem.

If a person feels that cleaning the house for Pesach is not part of avodas Hashem, we can almost tell him that he is forbidden to do it! The Chovos HeLevovos writes that there is no such thing as a gray area; it’s either forbidden or permissible. If it’s not a mitzvah, then it’s wrong to do.

We will try to explain how cleaning for Pesach can be avodas Hashem, in a way how everyone will be able to enter the Yom Tov amidst avodas Hashem, not amidst stress.

Why Do We Clean The House?

If we think into it, besides for the mitzvah of the Torah to keep the house clean from chametz on Pesach, there are more reasons why we need to clean the house.

3) One possible reason why a person cleans is because he feels bad to make the rest of his family do everything! He personally doesn’t care for the house to be clean. Most of the Pesach preparations have nothing to do with the mitzvah of destroying chametz – just various household chores. Why does a person do all these things for Pesach? Many times it is simply because he feels bad standing around and watching everyone else do all the work. He’s doing it all for the sake of chessed.

That is one possible reason why a person spends so much time with Pesach preparations.

4) Another possibility could be that we don’t like it when the house is dirty. Hashem created each person with a natural desire to have a clean house. Some people are cleanlier than others, and they can’t take even the slightest amount of messiness. But all people want their house clean somewhat, so they clean for the house for Pesach.

5) Another possibility can also be because people like it when things are orderly. During the rest of the year people are very busy, and they want to have one time in the year where they sit down and just arrange everything in its place (This is not the same thing as a desire for neatness.)

So far we have mentioned five possibilities why a person cleans the house for Pesach: Acting robotic, doing it because it’s a mitzvah of the Torah, kindness, cleanliness or orderliness.

The first kind of person we mentioned – the one who does it robotically – is obviously not doing it in the right way. That is simple and we don’t need to explain why.

The second kind of person, who does it because it’s a mitzvah, has to put some more thought into it. It is not enough to know that he must clean the house – there must be some more life involved, some more thinking.

Before he begins to clean the house, he should talk to Hashem and say, “Ribono shel olam, Why am I going to clean my house? I have other things to do; I can be learning or relaxing. The reason why I am going to clean my house now is because You, the Ribono shel Olam, commanded me that the house be free of chametz. Since I want to give You a nachas ruach, I will exert myself now to clean my house.”

While a person is cleaning the house, this is what he should be saying to himself. If someone knows how to think in learning Torah as he does something, then he should think in learning and he doesn’t have to do this. But if someone usually doesn’t think in learning as he cleans the house, and his thoughts are just floating elsewhere, then he should at least for a few minutes here and there remind himself of what he’s doing and why he’s doing it.

We are speaking about a very simple thing one can do; there are people who are on a very high level and always have d’veykus in Hashem wherever they are, but we are not speaking of this. We are speaking about something very basic and simple.

If a person cleans the house because he wants to be nice and doesn’t want everyone else to do all the work, he also has to think about this and say, “Ribono shel olam, Why am I doing this? I don’t personally feel a need to clean my house. The only reason why I am doing it is so that I can do chessed with my family.”

A person should keep talking to Hashem throughout the entire time: “Ribono shel olam, it is my will to do Your will. One of the pillars of the world is chessed, and I am thus doing chessed in order to give You a nachas ruach.”

After a day of doing this, besides for the physical exercise you get out of cleaning the house, your entire day is filled with pure avodas Hashem. In this way, a person never leaves ruchniyus even while being involved in this mundane world.

The Natural Desire for Cleanliness

Let us elaborate on the last two points, which are more subtle points about our soul.

There is a desire in a person for cleanliness. Everyone loves cleanliness – some more, and some less. The soul of a person naturally recoils a bit from messiness. People often see a mess and start cleaning it, and if you ask them, “What are you doing? Why you are cleaning it up?” the answer is, “It bothers me.”

People clean because they can’t stand the sight of something dirty or messy, and cleaning it up removes this anxiety. It seems that this has nothing to do with trying to become close to Hashem, and that a person is trying to save his soul from some pain.

But if we think into it just a little, we can connect everything to Hashem. If a person likes to clean, the first thing he should ask himself is: “Why do I like to clean? Did I make myself this way? No. Hashem gave me this nature.”

Realize that whatever your nature is, it was Hashem who gave you such a nature. Not only that, but Hashem is constantly renewing Creation; He is constantly renewing your nature, which is that you like to clean and that you hate messiness.

After you realize with certainty that it was Hashem who gave you this nature to desire cleanliness, and that He continues to renew this nature in you, now think: “Why did Hashem give me such a nature? What is the purpose of wanting cleanliness, and how do I use this natural desire in a person? What are the pros and cons of it?”

The desire for cleanliness doesn’t happen on its own. (It is absurd to think that it does, but the yetzer hora gets a person to succeed not to think.) A person must think to himself, “Hashem gave me this desire for cleanliness. It was Him who placed this desire in me.”

This realization helps you begin your relationship with Hashem.

What indeed is the root of why we like cleanliness?

Cleanliness (nekiyus) is one of the ten steps in the ladder of avodas Hashem as described by Rebbi Pinchos ben Yair, the basis of sefer Mesillas Yesharim. Cleanliness exists for us to cleanse ourselves from sin, because sin sullies our soul. Every power in the soul is also manifested somehow in our body; the power of cleanliness of our soul manifests itself in our body with the need for physical cleanliness.

The truth is that the more a person grows spiritually, the more he increases his cleanliness. Some people are very clean in their soul and others are very particular also about physical cleanliness (in addition to their spiritual cleanliness), but the point is that the more a person purifies himself, the more of a need for cleanliness he has, and the purer his soul becomes.

The root behind cleanliness comes from an inner desire to be purified. This gives us a whole different attitude to have about our need for physical cleanliness – it is rooted in our soul’s need for cleanliness and purity.

Knowing Your Motivation For Cleanliness

There are two reasons why a person wants physical cleanliness; one reason is unnecessary and more of a luxury to a person, while the other reason is coming from our soul’s need for purity and closeness.

There are situations in which we clean more than we have to, and it is extra. It is hard to say exactly what is considered overdoing it, and each person needs to decide for himself what is considered already too much. If a person is just taking a shower or brushing his teeth simply because he is very concerned about his body, this is totally unnecessary (except for certain rare individuals who won’t get affected by this).

Something even worse than this is when a person is really bothered by uncleanliness and he doesn’t clean. Such a person not only has physical messiness, but he damages his soul with this. He is denying his soul’s demand for cleanliness.

So before begins to clean, he must ask himself: What is my motivation in cleaning the house? Am I doing it out of a compulsiveness to clean (just like there are people who indulge in food and drinking), or am I doing it to help my household? If he realizes that he is doing it to help, then he should work on the avodah we mentioned before (which is to say a tefillah to Hashem).

If he discovers that he’s doing it because he has a personal need for cleanliness, he must really ask himself if he is overdoing it or not, or if it comes from a sensitivity in his soul for cleanliness (and he therefore needs it). Everyone must uncover what is motivating him to clean.

Most people do not have these issues. We will therefore discuss a more simple kind of issue that people have which is much more common: when people love to clean something that is clearly a mess. In this, we need to put some thought into the cleaning.

Before a person cleans, he should say: “Ribono shel olam, this mess really bothers me. Who gave me this feeling? You – Hashem. Where does this nature in me come from? It comes from a power in my soul to demand purity. Ribono shel olam, is it Your will that I break this nature of mine and endure the messiness? Or is it Your will that I live with purity and cleanliness? Since it is clear to me that You want my soul to desire this cleanliness, I will go clean the house in order to get close to You and give You pleasure.”

Even though you’re doing it shelo lishmah – not for the sake of Heaven (because you’re doing it out of your need for cleanliness) – you can still add this element of lishmah into your action.

But always remember that cleaning the house for Pesach is purely avodas Hashem. It must be done properly with thought and concentration.

The Importance Of Orderliness

Another point to be addressed is the fifth reason why a person wants to clean the house: to have orderliness.

Just like a person has a natural need for cleanliness, and this comes from the soul’s desire for purity which Hashem put in us, so did Hashem put in us a natural desire for orderliness.

Some people have a more of a need to be organized than others, but all people have a need to get things organized. This is not by itself – it is a nature which Hashem gave each person.

Without our natural desire for orderliness, no one would get anywhere. In order to build up anything, there is a certain order involved. Since every person on this world must build himself, Hashem endowed each person with an ability to have orderliness. Without orderliness, we wouldn’t be able to develop our avodas Hashem.

The more orderly a person is, the more he is able to develop in avodas Hashem. The less orderly a person is, the more confusion he has, and he feels like he is an exile. A person has to get out of this exile of confusion and become more orderly. This is the beginning of an inner freedom.

Orderliness is thus a need of our soul, but we often use it just for our body’s physical needs, such as the need to look very put together and organized.

Just like a dirty house makes our soul suffer, so can living in a messy house bother us so much that it is an impediment to our avodas Hashem. If we don’t care about how our house looks inside, we will definitely be affected spiritually as well.

It is well-known that when a tzaddik would look for a prospective match for his daughter, he would inspect the boy’s room and see if he’s neat. When a person has no sense of orderliness when it comes to the physical, it is a sign that he has is spiritually messy as well.

In order for our soul to get orderliness in spiritual matters, a person needs to first make sure he’s neat when it comes to his physical matters. But we must always remember that it is Hashem who gives us such a nature. We must recognize that our need for orderliness comes from Hashem, and that this need that people have doesn’t come by itself.

Realize that this need for orderliness can be used as a way to connect to the Creator. Like this, a person can take the physical world and use it to develop a relationship with Hashem. It is an inner kind of life, a life spent with Hashem even in ordinary, mundane actions.

When a person realizes that the need for organization is necessary in his avodas Hashem, he is able to realize that organizing the house is not just an act of kindness with his family, but it is a necessary part in one’s personal avodas Hashem.

In this, there are two parts. Some people were born with a need for orderliness, and it really bothers them when things aren’t in place. The avodah of such a person is to realize that this need comes from Hashem, and it is a way to serve Hashem.

But others don’t feel such a need for cleanliness. They know with their minds that a person should be orderly, but they don’t feel that this is a need for their soul. Such people feel that it makes sense to clean the house once a year, or else the house becomes unlivable…but not more than once a year.

This person’s avodah is the opposite of the first kind of person. Besides for the fact that he must organize his house, he also needs to awaken in his soul a desire to have orderliness.

Days Which We Can Grow From

A person wonders: Why did Hashem make it that people have to work so hard on Erev Pesach? Doesn’t this sacrifice our opportunities to grow spiritually by making preparations for Yom Tov? If we have to work so hard cleaning up, how do we prepare for the Yom Tov??

But if you think about it, these days before Pesach contain tremendous areas which we can use to attain growth in. If Hashem made it this way that we have to clean and organize the house, then that is the way for us to acquire all the precious areas of growth which we need.

Really, cleaning up and organizing the house are there to remind us of our soul’s need for purity. This is a precious gain in our avodas Hashem. But the yetzer hora comes and takes away the message of it and turns it into mundane actions, drying it up from all the avodas Hashem contained in it.

If a person understands the depth of avodas Hashem, he doesn’t clean the house simply because he wants it to be clean. He cleans the house because through that, he connects to an inner point in his soul – the need for spiritual cleanliness. He understands that now is precisely the time to work on this.

The truth is that all of life is like this: the yetzer hora comes and takes what’s very important and turns it into something that’s not important. In whatever we encounter, we should always see the greatness we can achieve in this situation. The more confusing and seemingly pointless a situation appears, the more greatness lies in it if we uncover it.

If a person before Pesach is caught up in this and that and he comes into the Yom Tov exhausted and stressed out, what is all our hard work worth? We don’t gain from this kind of a life.

If we don’t see how everything we do can be a form of avodas Hashem and how much being involved with the world takes away from our soul, then these days go to waste. Our preparation for Pesach should not be a physical preparation; although we do exert our body to prepare for Pesach, really, there is an inner depth taking place in what we are doing. It is really a preparation of our soul for the coming days. Through preparing for it in the right way, a person comes into Yom Tov the way he should.

Each person can take these words and open them up more to himself, each to his own. The common denominator between all people is the days preceding Pesach are days of ruchniyus, not days of materialistic pursuits. They are days of closeness to Hashem.

Hashem should help us that we prepare properly for Pesach during these days, from a sincere desire to give pleasure to our Creator. In these days preceding Pesach, each of us should merit to increase our true closeness and love of Hashem.

Spiritual Growth Through Drinking on Purim

The Obligation to Drink on Purim
The Shulchan Orach states (Orach Chaim 695:2): “A person is required to become intoxicated on Purim until he does not know the difference between the cursing of Haman and the blessing of Mordechai.”

Drinking to Strengthen Our Emunah in Hashem
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz in his Servant of Hashem piece in his classic Sichos Mussar connects this requirement of intoxication to the essence of Purim and its comparison in holiness to Yom Kippur. He brings down a few cases where great people like Moshe, King Shaul and King Chizkiyahu were punished because they had incorrectly used their reasoning and logic to misinterpret Hashem’s directives.

Rabbi Shmuelevitz points out that although we need to use our intellectual facilities to serve G-d, the ultimate goal is to serve Hashem out of a simple faith that He is our Creator, Ruler and Ultimate Benefactor. The essence of Purim is that once a year, we become intoxicated and strip away the all traces of reasoning and serve Hashem with our faith alone.

Drinking to Strengthen Our Connection to People
Rabbi Herschel Welcher points out that Purim is a day of unity with its Mitzvos of giving charity to the poor, giving gifts to our friends and sharing a festive meal with family and friends. Drinking brings down inhibitions and allows us to more easily connect deeply with others in line with the goal of unity.

Rabbi Welcher often tells the story of former friends who had become estranged through a dispute. It was only on Purim when they were both intoxicated that they were able to bury the hatchet, embrace and restore their friendship. Many of us can also connect a little better when we are intoxicated.

Drinking to Enhance Our Self Esteem
I read a great book by Dr. Dovid Lieberman titled “How Free Will Works”. Dr. Lieberman, a Torah-centered psychologist, defines self-esteem as recognizing our inherent worth, feeling deserving of happiness and good fortune, and knowing that we are precious in the eyes of Hashem. It also includes recognizing both our strengths and our weaknesses and the desire to improve.

What often gets in our way is our ego. Dr. Lieberman says our body wants to feel good, our ego wants to look good, and our soul wants to do good. The more we listen to our soul and do what is good (Torah, Mitzvos and Chesed) the more we will enhance our self-esteem and increase our happiness. Our ego and the desire to look good clouds our perspective, and leads us to perform and rationalize incorrect behaviors.

Although Dr. Lieberman does not discuss drinking on Purim, I think that embracing the mitzvah of drinking on Purim allows us to disable our looking-good mechanizations and enjoy being our inherently good selves and our loving relationships with Hashem, our family and our friends.

Drinking Responsibly
When asked about drinking on Purim, Rabbi Welcher would always tell us that he strongly discouraged his high school students from drinking. The persistent among us, asked, “But what about us Baalei Batim?”. He told us that we have to teach our children how to drink responsibly.

A number of years ago we made the seudah with just our family and I stated that my goal was to teach responsible drinking. I was the only one drinking and I took out a bottle of Vodka. (Rabbi Welcher proves from a Rashi that hard liquor is a suitable drink on a Purim). I proceeded to drink shots and get intoxicated. I gave everybody long blessings and acted well within the boundaries of propriety. My kids said, “You’re not drunk!”. To which I replied, “If you were inside my head, you wouldn’t say that”.

With a few notable exceptions, every mitzvah has its measure, and that includes drinking on Purim. Somewhere between 0 and 12 shots (or glasses of wine) is the right amount. Each person can keep in mind the above mentioned goals and stop at the point where he can bring those goals to fruition.

Unique Aspects of Purim

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.

Download a number of Drashos on Purim

On one hand, Purim is the last of the festivals, and on the other hand, it is a new beginning (as it is with all “ends”, where the end is always a beginning to something else). The Sages state all of the festivals in the future will cease, except for Purim. This is because it is the end of the festivals of the current time period – and it is a beginning of the future.

Therefore, Purim is intrinsically different than all the other festivals. Purim contains both the light of the current festivals, as well as an additional light – the light that is beginning of the future times.

This additional light contained in Purim stands out in all of the events of Purim and in its unique mitzvos. There are many examples of how we can see it – here is a list of a few of them.

1) The system of the “festivals” begin with Pesach, the exodus from Egypt, where we were told, למען תדע,“So that you shall know”; and on Sukkos as well, with the mitzvah of sukkah, the Torah says that it is למען ידעו דורותיכם, “So that the generations will know.” But Purim is not for the purpose of knowing – it is about עד דלא ידע, “ad d’lo yoda” – it is about “not” knowing [its concept is “above” the normal daas\knowledge].

2) Regarding all mitzvos of the Torah, there is a rule, “the Torah is not in heaven” (Bava Metzia 59b). But Purim was ‘agreed upon’ in Heaven (Yerushalmi Berachos 67b).

3) When we stood at Har Sinai, there was yirah (awe), for Hashem gave the Torah so that “they will learn to fear Me for all days”. But on Purim, where we re-accepted the Torah, we did so with ratzon (will), which came from ahavah\love [for Hashem], because of the miracles experienced [as Rashi in Tractate Megillah states]. This was ahavah (love), as opposed to just having yirah (awe).

4) In all other festivals, we are obligated in them due to standing at Har Sinai and receiving the Torah. But on Purim we had a different kind of receiving of the Torah, by re-accepting the Torah. Clearly it was not the same acceptance again; it was a much deeper kind of acceptance. It resembled, “A new Torah shall come forth from Me” [the Torah of the future].

All other festivals are rooted in Moshe, who received the Torah from Hashem at Har Sinai. But Purim applied to walled cities from the times of Yehoshua, so it is rooted in Yehoshua.

5) When it comes to the rest of the mitzvos of the Torah, either we give to the poor or to the Kohen. But when it comes to Purim, we give Mishloach Manos to friends, out of love for everyone.

6) The Torah is a ‘masculine’ term, for it is called “Toras Moshe”, who was a man. But the Torah which we received on Purim was wrought through a woman, Esther, and the “Torah” that we received on Purim is collected in “Megillas Esther”.

7) All the other festivals were open miracles, but Purim was entirely hidden miracles. This is because the purpose of Purim was to reveal the hidden, resembling the statement, “Wine enters, secrets come out.”

8) All other festivals have a specific time of the calendar, whereas Purim can fall out either on the 11th, the 12th, the 13th, the 14th, or the 15th. The mitzvos of Purim can be performed on an earlier date than the 14th, resembling the possibility of the redemption being earlier than its time.

9) In all other festivals, there is only one performance of the mitzvos of the festival (and even when it comes to shaking lulav, there is only one mitzvah per 7 days of Sukkos to shake lulav), but the mitzvos of Purim can be performed over a period of two days, which are the 14th and 15th of Adar. This is because the spiritual light of Purim is a “double” light. The 14th of Purim is equal to the number ×™”ד in Hebrew, which has the same gematria as דוד, symbolizing the end of the festivals, and the 15th of Purim corresponds to the days of Mashiach, whose kingdom will be completed on the 15th of the month.

10) Just as Shabbos is a resemblance of the World To Come and it contains doubles (see Yalkut Shimeoni Shemos 16:261), so is Purim a beginning of the light of the future, thus it is a “double” day.

Discovering Your Happiness

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.

Download a number of Drashos on Purim

Discovering Your Happiness

Introduction
עמהם חלקנו ושים – We ask Hashem that our portion be with those who truly trust in Hashem. Then we ask בטחנו בך כי נבוש לא ולעולם – that we not be eternally shamed. Here in Shemoneh Esrei we state that if we achieve bitachon (trust in Hashem) that we will not be shamed; clearly, though, we are not yet on the level of bitachon, for we just mentioned that only the tzaddikim attain true bitachon. Why are we requesting this, if we are clearly not yet on the level of having true bitachon in Hashem?

The answer lies in the following.

Focusing On What You Have Already

Everything is inside man. All good middos – as well as all bad middos – are inside us, being that we contain in ourselves a mixture of good and evil.
When a person wants to acquire bitachon, or any other good quality, the superficial attitude is, to try to ‘acquire’ the good trait. A person wants bitachon, so he feels “I need to acquire bitachon.” A person wants simcha (happiness), so his attitude is “I need to acquire simcha.”

But there is a more inner perspective to have. In whatever we want to acquire, we need to first see how much of it we have already acquired and how much we still have to acquire, and upon that, we can then seek to fill whatever we are missing. For example, if a person wants to have bitachon, he shouldn’t think “I don’t have bitachon, so I must get bitachon.” Rather, he needs to see how much bitachon he already has revealed in his life, and then he should seek to acquire the remaining amount of bitachon that you still haven’t acquired yet.

Why? It is because since all of the good middos are really found inside us – for man is all-inclusive – therefore, you already have some of it already revealed in you.

You need to have that perspective. Even if you only have a small revelation of the good quality you’re trying to acquire, it is still something.

Chazal say that one should first give gratitude over the past before he cries to Hashem about what he needs. So first see what you already have, then ask Hashem for things. For example, if you need parnassah, but you are healthy, first thank Hashem for your health, and then ask for parnassah.

There is also a deeper understanding of this. When we thank Hashem, it can only happen as a result of recognizing what we already have. In order to thank Hashem, we first need to see what we have and admit to it. If we just say it with our mouth but we don’t admit to it in our heart, then it’s
just a lip service.

Having A ‘Good Eye’

This concept is also called “ayin tovah” – having a “good eye.” It is also called “someach b’chelko”, being happy with one’s lot. A person has to first focus on the positive and only after that ask Hashem for what he needs. If a person is always focusing on what he’s missing – “I’m missing this middah and that middah, etc.” – then all he is concerned about is how to fill his void. He never stops to consider what he does have.

The correct mentality is to first focus on what you already have. This gets you used to being positive – on what you do have – not on what you don’t have.

Whether we need something physical or something spiritual, first we need to realize what we do have. We should not focus on what we don’t have and what we need. And actually, the more we grow in spirituality, the more we see how much we are missing, and we will grow more and more negative towards ourselves.

Therefore, the real mindset to have is to first reflect on what you do have until now, and then, by thanking Hashem over these things, your gratitude will then connect you to all those things and help you realize them.

If a person can’t thank Hashem for what he does have, he doesn’t really recognize what he have, and he will be negative towards himself, because all he thinks about is how much he doesn’t have. He places his soul in a place that always feels lacking, and this is damaging.

The Vilna Gaon said that we need to be someach b’chelko (happy with our lot) even when it comes to our ruchniyus. So the basis is to realize what we already have gained in our ruchniyus. This is a major fundamental we must know in our Avodas Hashem! It is especially relevant to those who are drawn towards sadness and negativity. When we apply this concept of being focused on the positive to our Avodas Hashem, we will leave our pull towards negativity and instead feel more drawn after simcha (happiness).

Spiritual Growth: Expanding The Good Within

There is also a deeper point to be aware of with regards to this.

In any matter of Avodas Hashem, we do not acquire a matter from “outside” ourselves. Rather, everything is really drawn from within ourselves. Everything we need to acquire is already inside us. All we have to do is expand what we already have.
If someone is only focused on what he doesn’t have in his ruchniyus – he is always thinking about the middos and spiritual qualities he needs to acquire – he has never thought about all the good that is really inside him up until this point.

All you need to do is to expand the good points that are already revealed to a certain extent inside you. To illustrate, Rav Shimon Shkop said that in order to love others like yourself, you can’t do it by simply trying to love another person. Rather, you expand your own love which you have for
yourself, and you let it extend to others.

In whatever good point we are trying to acquire, some of it is already revealed in you! You just need to keep expanding it. But it’s already revealed in you somewhat, and you should not think that you need to “get” some quality or some good middah from outside of yourself. It is already within you, and you just need to keep opening it up more and more from within yourself.

This is a perspective to have towards Torah learning, towards holiness, towards Avodas Hashem you don’t acquire growth from “outside” of yourself. Rather, you get it by expanding upon the good points that are already in you – and all of the good points really are found in you.

Genuine Avodas Hashem

These words are describing a subtle concept. Usually, when a person wants to acquire a certain quality, he will learn the words of Chazal about them. But the inner method is to realize that all’s inside you, and you just need to expand the good that’s already in you; there is nothing “new” you need to acquire from the outside!

This will change your entire perspective towards avodas Hashem, the more you clarify this point and the more you actualize it.

There are people who enter into avodas Hashem but they become more and more disconnected from actual self-recognition, even as they are involved with becoming more serious and devoted to better serving Hashem; they become more superficial! There are also people who immerse themselves in Torah study and they lose their self in the process. They become disconnected from their own self-recognition even as they are involved with spiritual pursuit. But this is not the proper way of Torah.

When it comes to avodas Hashem, a person might think that he’s trying to acquire matters that are beyond himself, and as he is involved in trying to grow, he loses his own self in the process. But if a person uses the inner approach here, he truly experiences the inner world contained in avodas Hashem.

The Innermost Point

An even deeper point is to know the following.

In our soul, there are parts that are revealed to us and parts that are concealed to us. Our good middos are partially revealed and partially concealed. If we want acquire good middos, we need to expand what has already been revealed, and that is how we will bring out the rest that is concealed. This is what we explained so far.

But the concealed good in our soul is not just our good middos that we haven’t revealed. In the very depths of our soul, there is nothing but the actual purity of our soul. All perfection is contained there! We have a Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshamah which are all found inside us. Therefore, all qualities are already in us. (The Nefesh HaChaim writes part of the neshamah is present in the thoughts of the brain).

So the first point of all this is that a person needs to realize, that all good middos are already in him. Practically speaking, one has to be thankful for whatever good he already has. Then, he has to realize that whatever else he needs to acquire, it is also inside him, and he just needs to expand the good that is already there.

We have discussed these two points until now; now we will explain the third point we need to know, which is to realize the innermost point of the soul. In the very inner depths of the soul, all perfection is contained! There, there is absolute perfection in our Torah and middos. But, it is dormant, and we need to reveal it from its potential state and activate it.

We feel ‘poor’ on the outside, but we really have a million dollars inside our “bank.” If only the “pauper” would be informed that there are millions of dollars stored somewhere in his house. It’s not just money that you can’t access. It can be accessed – you just have to recognize it by getting in
touch with it.

We have good middos and bad middos in ourselves – all of them. From the perspective of our nefesh hebehaimis, we feel lowly towards ourselves because we see how more we need to improve and acquire. Our avodah in this is that we must thank Hashem for the good we have revealed and seek to expand the good that is already in us.

But the higher aspect is to utilize the perspective coming from our very essence of the soul, which is the point of perfection in us.

We thank Hashem every day for returning to us our pure soul, when we say Elokai Neshamah. A person might say this for 70 years but he doesn’t reflect on this concept. Why do we keep thanking Hashem every day for returning to us our soul? It is not just to say thanks to Hashem. It is because it is so fundamental to realize that we are a pure soul in our essence. It’s unbelievable – a person might go his whole life and say Elokai Neshamah every day, yet the life he lives does not reflect this at all. A person might live his whole life and never realize he is really a pure Neshamah, even though he says Elokai Neshamah every day.

All perfection is contained in our soul’s essence. This gives you a whole new perspective towards your self-awareness. Of course, we still have a body and an animalistic level of the soul, and we still have bad middos in us. All the bad middos are indeed in us. But that’s only one way of looking at it. If we focus on the fact that we are a body with base desires and bad middos, we view ourselves with a lowly perspective. The real “Modeh Ani” is to realize that we have a neshamah.

We still have an avodah to work on ourselves and improve ourselves, of course, but we need to do our avodah from the perspective of our neshamah – to realize how wealthy we are! It is called being ‘someiach b’chelko’. It is to recognize oneself with the understanding that one is a perfect neshamah!

Three Ways To Acquire Happiness

We are in the month of Adar, days of simchah (joy). We have three ways of how to reach simchah, as we have so far explained.

(1) The first perspective we explained is to expand upon the good that is already in ourselves. For example, if you want to acquire a good middah of a good quality (i.e. bitachon), realize that you already have some of the level that you want. When you think into this, it can provide you with a degree of simchah.

(2) Another way to derive simchah is to focus on your good points and qualities.

(3) The highest perspective you can have is to realize you are a neshamah (a Divine soul), which contains all inner wealth possible.

When you reveal this joy in yourself, you will feel like a convert born anew, like a new being. With this deep perspective, you will also stop comparing yourself with others and instead just realize that you are a neshamah. When you dwell in it, you live in a world of light. A life of neshamah means to connect yourself with the spiritual world, and on a deeper level, to connect yourself with the
Creator.

These words are not inspirational ideas. It is a perspective to view life with; it is a certain selfawareness. It is not intellectual, nor is it meant to be inspirational. It is about recognizing reality as it is.

In Conclusion

When a person lives with this attitude, he enters into what is written, “The righteous rejoice in Hashem.”

Now we return to the question we started out with. On one hand, one must aspire for bitachon in Hashem and ask Hashem that he be among those who truly trust in Hashem – ask we ask in Shemoneh Esrei, עמהם חלקנו ושים .At the same time, recognize that you are a neshamah – therefore, all good and all perfection is really contained deep down in your essence.

Becoming aware to these three aspects can cause a major overhaul in your life and it can help you enter the spiritual world. There will always be ups and downs, there are always times when we fail, but generally, this is the perspective you can carry with you that will lead you to a truly spiritual life, and you can keep going with it until you reach the complete bond with Hashem.

Purim Katan and Daf Yomi B’Halacha

Tuesday, Feb 15 is Purim Katan. The last section of the Shulchan Aruch (697) is about Purim Katan.

The Shulchan Aruch says:
On the 14th and 15th of the first Adar one should not say Tachanun and should not say the Psalm, La-Menatzeyach Ya’ancha Hashem Be-Yom Tzarah. One these days we don’t say hespeds or fast. However, other Purim matters are not practiced on them. There are authorities who say than even hespeds and fasts are permitted on them. The Rema says: The practice accords with the first reasoning (i.e. no hespeds or fasts)

The Rema adds: There are authorities who say that one is obligated to increase ones feasting and rejoicing on the 14th of the first Adar. This is not the practice. Nevertheless, one should have a somewhat larger meal then in order to satsify the view of the authorities who are stringent in this matter and someone with a contented heart is always festive.

The Mishnah Berurah says: The Tashbeytz stated that one should have a larger meal on Purim Katan and Rabbeinu Yechi’eyl of Paris was accustomed to have a larger meal and invite people. This is what the Rema means when he concludes by saying “and someone with a contented heart is always festive” i.e. that it is desirable for one to have a larger meal to honor the miracle which was performed at these times.

As it happens, this week concludes the 7 year cycle of the Daf Yomi B’Halacha cycle which goes through the entire Shuchan Aruch and Mishnah Berurah with a 5 day a week learning schedule. The new cycle begins on Sunday, February 20.

You can download the luach to start the cycle.

Sefaria has begun an English translation of the Mishnah Berurah.

YU Torah has shiurim on the Mishnah Berurah cycle.

The OU has has shiurim on the Mishnah Berurah cycle.

This is probably the most important Yomi cycle since we need to know halacha to serve Hashem properly. This is a great opportunity to going through the Mishnah Berurah. Please join the cycle this upcoming Sunday.

Twice Adar – Understanding the Halachos of Adar Rishon and Adar Sheini

Rabbi Daniel Travis
Kollel Torah Chaim

Rising to the Occasion

“When Adar arrives we increase our level of happiness” ( Taanis 29a). All year long Jews strive to feel the tremendous sense of joy that should accompany our service of G-d. As we draw closer to Purim, we are instructed to raise our spirits to an even higher level.

What is the reason for this?

We can answer this with help from the famous dictum of the Rema, “There is no joy greater than that which we feel when we have eliminated doubts” (Responsa 5). Adar and Nissan are months during which Hashem performed extraordinary miracles for the Jewish people. Through studying and celebrating these events we can achieve clarity of faith and rid ourselves of any doubts regarding G-d’s eternal dominion over the world. When everything is so clear, we know that our Father in Heaven is watching over us every moment of the day, and we are free to experience a constant state of simcha .

Haman’s lots determined that we celebrate Purim in the month of Adar, the month in which Moshe Rabbeinu was born. What do we do in a leap year, when we have two months of Adar?

Although all opinions agree that Purim is celebrated in Adar Sheni, the overwhelming joy of this period makes its presence already felt in Adar Rishon, with the celebration of Purim Katan. However, numerous other issues arise concerning the halachic question of which Adar is which.

Shabbos Mevorchim

The following scenario raises a fascinating halachic conundrum: On the Shabbos before Adar Rishon begins, the chazzan stands before the congregation in synagogue, holding the Torah scroll. As he clears his throat to announce the new month, he wonders to himself, “Should I call the upcoming month Adar, or must I say Adar Rishon?”

This chazzan’s seemingly simple question is discussed extensively by the commentators . They agree that Adar Sheni is the “real” Adar and Adar Rishon is the additional month ( Ridvaz 1:150). Although this information has relevance concerning when to commemorate a yahrzeit (a memorial day for the departed), our Sages did not define words based on halachic parameters. Interestingly enough, the meaning of a word is mainly determined by its colloquial use, i.e. what people mean when they say it.

Most Rishonim agree that when people say or write the word “Adar” by itself, they are referring to the first Adar, Adar Rishon (Rosh, Ran, Nedarim 63a). This answers our chazzan’s question, and he can say that next week will be “Rosh Chodesh Adar.” However, it is always better to avoid ambiguity, and for the sake of clarity it is preferable if he explicitly announces, “Adar Rishon” ( Mishna Berura 427:3).

An Adar Deadline

All kinds of legal questions can arise when people are not specific about which Adar they mean. Here is an interesting story of one young man whose confusion became almost overwhelming:

David’s father passed away on the second day of Adar during a non-leap year. To honor his father’s memory, David made a vow that by Rosh Chodesh Adar of the following year he would reprint a book written by his great-grandfather.

David hired a printer and wrote in the contract that the books must be ready by Rosh Chodesh Adar.

Meanwhile, David became engaged and the wedding was scheduled for the third of Adar Rishon.

Three weeks before the wedding David contacted the printer and requested that the first few hundred copies be printed as a souvenir to be given out at his wedding. The printer told him that he had not been planning to complete the books until the middle of Adar Rishon, but he could do it for him for an extra thousand dollars.

That week David found among his father’s papers a document recording a $1,000 loan given to someone three years previously, also a leap year. The document was dated “the fourteenth of Adar,” but David clearly recalled that the loan had been given on Purim – i.e., the fourteenth of Adar Sheni. The borrower had since died, but David hoped that with the signed document he would be able to collect the debt from the estate.

To add to his concerns, David wished to fast on his father’s yahrzeit , as was the custom in his family. Would this mean that he would have to fast on two consecutive days – the day of his father’s yahrzeit and the following day, the day of his wedding?

This story encompasses four halachic issues, each one discussed in a different section of the Shulchan Aruch .

The first question regards David’s vow to print the book by Rosh Chodesh Adar. Must they be ready by Rosh Chodesh Adar Rishon or Rosh Chodesh Adar Sheni?

The next question is by which date did the printer obligate himself to complete the printing?

Third, we must clarify whether the loan document is valid or not. If the loan is considered to have been predated to Adar Rishon, it would be invalid and David is not allowed to use it to collect from the property of the borrower.

Finally, we must determine whether the yahrzeit of David’s father should be observed in Adar Rishon or Adar Sheni.

The Shulchan Aruch and the Rema both rule that the word “Adar” used by itself refers to Adar Rishon. Therefore, since David vowed to print the books by Rosh Chodesh Adar, he must have them ready by Rosh Chodesh Adar Rishon ( Yoreh Deah 220:8).

Similarly, regarding the printer’s contract, since the word “Adar” without explanation means Adar Rishon, the printer is obligated to finish the job in time for David to fulfill his vow without any extra charge ( Choshen Mishpat 43:28).

Concerning the document David found, since the word Adar means Adar Rishon, while the loan was actually given in Adar Sheni, the date is incorrect, meaning that the document is predated and therefore invalid (cf. Rema, Even Ha’ezer 126:7).

In conclusion, when someone says or writes the word Adar, the Shulchan Aruch and Rema agree that it means Adar Rishon, even if he actually meant Adar Sheni.

However, other authorities differ, ruling that the word Adar refers to Adar Sheni (Bach, Shach, Yoreh Deah 220:8). Because of this and other factors that could affect the final ruling, a halachic authority should be consulted in every case.

The question of the yahrzeit depends on other factors. Let us study them in more detail.

Yahrzeits

The Shulchan Aruch writes that if a person passed away in Adar of a non-leap year, the yahrzeit should be observed in Adar Sheni during leap years ( Orach Chaim 568:7).

Regarding vows and financial contracts, the exact date usually depends on what people intend when speaking or writing. However, the date of a yahrzeit has more significance because it is a day of judgment for the deceased and his family, and can only be determined by the month which is considered halachically the “real” Adar. Since Adar Sheni is the real Adar, the Shulchan Aruch places all yahrzeits in that month.

The Rema, however, notes that even though Adar Sheni is the real Adar, we follow the principle of doing mitzvos at the first opportunity and yahrzeits should be marked in Adar Rishon ( Yoreh Deah 402:12). Yet the Rema himself cites authorities who say that since this issue is unclear, it is praiseworthy to observe the yahrzeit in Adar Sheni as well ( Orach Chaim 568:7).

The Mishna states that “the only difference between the first and the second Adar is that the megilla is read and matanos l’evyonim are given [in the second Adar]” ( Megilla 6b). In this vein, some rule that keeping the yahrzeit in both Adar Rishon and Adar Sheni is not just desirable – it is an obligation ( Magen Avraham , Gra, Mishna Berura ). As with the previous halachos , there are many different issues involved in determining which opinion to follow, so a Rabbi should be consulted.

Bar Mitzvas
While the question of when to observe a yahrzeit depends on which month is considered the real halachic Adar, regarding a bar mitzva in a leap year we calculate differently.

In order to consider a child as having reached manhood according to the Torah, it is not enough to identify the real Adar. This calculation requires us to be aware of when thirteen years have completed. Here, even the Rema agrees that a boy born in Adar during a non-leap year does not become bar mitzva until Adar Sheni of his thirteenth year, since the year cannot be considered complete until then (Rema , Orach Chaim 55:11).

Continuous Celebration

The Rambam writes that any celebration that is not accompanied by lifting the spirits of the downtrodden is mere self-gratification ( Hilchos Yom Tov 6,18). Therefore the commentators write that when preparing one’s seuda on Purim Katan , it is proper to give charity to orphans and widows ( Eshel Avraham 697,2). Similarly someone who experienced a personal miracle should distribute money among Torah scholars ( Mishna Berura 218,34). However, there is another secret for making sure that one has the correct intentions when celebrating miracles.

After discussing the opinions of whether one should make a seuda on Purim Katan, the Rema concludes his commentary on Orach Chaim , the section of the Shulchan Aruch which deals with daily life, with a quote from the Book of Proverbs: “ Vetov lev mishteh tamid ,” (One who has a good heart is always feasting). In doing so he repeats the word tamid that he mentioned at the beginning of the Shulchan Aruch where he quoted a Psalm: “ Shivisi Hashem lenegdi tamid ,” (I place Hashem’s Presence in front of me always).

The Birkei Yosef notes that the use of the word “ tamid” in both of these instances hints at a very deep concept.

The temidim , the offerings which were brought on a daily basis in the Temple , had to be offered in their specified order, i.e. the morning korban must always precede the afternoon one.

The use of the word tamid at the beginning and the end of Orach Chaim implies a connection between the two ideas. Only after a person senses Hashem’s Presence before him can he aim to achieve the second level of tamid of “One who has a good heart is always feasting.”

Defining Happiness – Rav Itamar Schwartz (Bilvavi)

Rav Itamar Schwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Get a PDF of Repairing Your Simcha

The Source of Sadness

What is a person’s natural mood – to be happy (b’simchah), or to be sad (atzuv)? Without considering other possible factors that take away a person’s happiness – what is a person’s natural state? What is the source of our sadness, and what is the source of our happiness?

The source of sadness is clearly explained to us by our Sages. All sadness came onto the world as a result of the first sin of mankind. After the sin, Adam was cursed with the pain (“etzev”, which comes from the word “atzvus”, sadness) of hard work, and Chavah was also cursed with “etzev”, with the pains of child labor. If not for the first sin, it wouldn’t be possible for people to become sad.

So we know what causes sadness: sin. But what brings simchah\happiness? From where do we get our simchah from?

First, we need to define simcha\happiness – and then we can know what the source of it is.

The Two Kinds of Happiness

There are two kinds of simchah\happiness. One kind of happiness is when I am happy because of something; there can be many things that can cause me to be happy. Another kind of happiness is when I am happy for no reason at all; just like you can’t ask why dirt is dirt and why water is water, so is there a kind of happiness which you can’t explain why it is so. It just is.

In other words, there is an external kind of happiness, and an inner kind of happiness.

External Happiness vs. Inner Happiness

The external kind of happiness, which is to be happy based on a reason, is just the absence of sadness – but it isn’t really “happiness”. The inner kind of happiness, though is actual happiness; it is not just an absence of happiness. It is a happiness simply because that is the way we are created – to be able to be happy, without any reason.0F1

1 Editor’s Note: The Rav has spoken more about this concept in Getting To Know Yourself, where he mentioned the observation of the Brisker Rav zt”l, who pondered: Why is that children are naturally happy, whereas adults find it harder to be happy? As we go through life, we go through various circumstances which may harden us and damage the happiness which we were born with (but it is always there, deep down). The fact that children are naturally happy shows us that we are all born with a natural happiness that is not dependent of any one reason.

The first sin of mankind made it possible for a person to become sad; the curses that came to mankind are essentially forms of sadness, which did not exist in the desired plan of creation. Creation became altered through the sin and brought sadness to the world, making it possible for people to become sad. Not only that, but the sin also caused that we need a reason to become happy.

There is a mitzvah to rejoice on Yom Tov, but this is also happiness based on a reason. We celebrate all of the Fomim Tovim because we were taken out of Egypt. The deeper understanding of this is that the entire concept of Yom Tov came into creation as a result of sin as well. If not for the sin, we would have no need for festivals, because if we need a reason to be happy, this is all the result of the curse given to mankind, so it is cannot be the deepest source of our happiness.

In other words, to be happy “because” of something is that I need to be happy when I achieve something. This is the external kind of happiness.

By contrast, the real, perfect kind of happiness is a very inner kind of happiness. This is the happiness of the tzaddikim, who “rejoice in Hashem”. The inner kind of happiness is an intrinsic kind of happiness; it is when I am happy for no reason at all. This is the higher kind of happiness, which is experienced by tzaddikim.

The ultimate kind of happiness we should achieve on this world is the inner kind of happiness, which is to be happy with one’s intrinsic existence, and not to need any reason to be happy. But this inner happiness is usually concealed from us and it very far from our grasp.

Practically speaking, most people live off of their achievements, and not from their intrinsic existence. Happiness based on achievement is the lower kind of happiness, not the higher kind of happiness. Since that is the reality right now, we will focus our discussion on the lower kind of happiness and on how we can attain it.

Although it is not the ultimate kind of happiness, as we have explained, it is still a kind of happiness nonetheless. Thus, let us try to learn how to achieve it, so that we can at least have some degree of happiness.

Why Most People Aren’t Happy

Most people are not able to have constant happiness, and the reason for this is because they need to always see results, in order to be happy.

But when you are happy only when you get something, it’s like what is written, “Stolen waters are sweet.” The sweetness lasts only for when we have it, but when our achievements go away, we no longer have a reason to be happy. Such a happiness is based on what’s new in our life, so when it’s still new to us, it can give us happiness, but when it’s no longer new, the happiness goes away with it. Even the happiness of Yom Tov, which is a mitzvah, is only a temporary happiness. It is only three times a year.

In the future we will have the ultimate happiness, which is the happiness of the tzaddikim, who “rejoice in Hashem”. For now, we must try to at least have the lower kind of happiness, which is to be happy with our achievements.

Most people today don’t even have the lower kind of happiness, because they aren’t even aware what makes them happy. Many times you can ask a person, “Why are you happy?” and he says, “I don’t know…”

Is such a person happy because he’s such a ‘happy go lucky’ person that everything makes him so happy? That isn’t the reason for his response. It is simply that he isn’t aware to what makes him happy, and that’s why he doesn’t know if he’s happy.

Awareness To What Makes You Happy

The only way to be happy on this world is, to be aware as you’re doing something that will lead to your happiness. If you are aware what makes you happy (and you are involved in trying to achieve it), then you can be happy, but if you’re not aware as to what makes you happy, then you won’t achieve happiness.

If you are aware that you are on the way toward happiness (and you’re doing something to get there) you will be able to be happy. But if you’re not aware, then even when you get what you want and you’re happy, your happiness goes away as soon as whatever you get is no longer here anymore.

You must be aware to what makes you happy, and what makes you sad. This awareness is part of our journey toward happiness, and it has a lot to do with how you are happy or sad.

Being Happy Now, Before You Get What You Want

To illustrate what we mean, let’s say a person has a child after waiting twenty years for a child. He is ecstatic, but why? It’s not just because he has a child. It is because he waited so long. From here we can see that happiness depends on being aware of your journey toward whatever it is that you wanted to achieve. This is called a tahalich – a “journey”. We must always see the tahalich we are on, if we ever wish to be happy.

Let’s say a person is happy when he gets to his results, but he doesn’t care about what he did in order to get there. If that is his outlook on life, he will never be happy, even when he gets the results he wanted. We can see from one who has a baby after a long time of waiting; he isn’t just happy from the results, but he is happy only because he is aware of his journey in getting there. Without that awareness of what he had to go through to get his results – in this case, the birth of a child – he wouldn’t appreciate the child. Now that he had to wait so long, his joy knows no bounds when he finally has a baby.

The basic idea we learn from this is that in order to be happy, a person needs to be aware about his actual journey toward happiness. That means he has to be happy, even now – before he sees results. He’s on a tahalich toward happiness, and he has to see that’s he’s on that tahalich, if he is to appreciate what he’s striving for.

We can see that people lose their happiness very quickly, even after they get what they want. This is because they aren’t aware of the steps they took to get there and only focus on the results. When people only care about results, then whatever happiness they get vanishes with time.

Happiness – Feeling Like I’m Moving

When a person is doing something in order to become happy, he is really moving. He’s trying to gain happiness, so he’s moving toward it. The movement itself is what is making him happy (if he realizes it). It is our movements which make us happy.

We can see this from dancing. A person uses his feet to move; what does a person do when he is happy? He dances. He dances with which part of his body? His feet.

The depth behind this is that happiness is when we move. It’s not like how we are used to thinking, that we can only be happy when we arrive at what we want. Really, happiness is when we are happy with the very steps we are taking in order to get there. Thus, if we don’t have this awareness we won’t be happy, because our whole happiness can only come from appreciating how we’re moving towards it.

We are used to thinking that one can only be happy when he gets his results, and what he did to get there is meaningless; the main thing if he achieved or not. The usual mindset of people is to only value achievement, while efforts alone are regarded as meaningless. The truthful perspective, however, is that a person can only be happy with what he achieved only when he is aware with what he did to get there. Great achievements alone do bring one to have happiness. Only when we realize our efforts – as we are trying to achieve – will we be able to appreciate our achievements are receive happiness from them.

Happiness Defined: Awareness of Effort, Plus Achievement

It’s really two-fold: The results and the effort together make a person happy. If I am happy with only results but not with my efforts, I won’t even realize my own happiness when I get what I want, and I won’t be able to keep my happiness. But if when I get my results I am aware that I had to take a certain path to get there – I will be able to appreciate my achievement. So even when you are happy with your achievements, your happiness is really coming from how much you put into it to get there. If you have this awareness, you will be able to be happy with your achievement, but if you are not aware of this, then you won’t be happy – even when you finally get what you want.

Thus, the harder the struggle to get there, the more you enjoy the happiness when it comes. Like we see from the father who didn’t have children for a long time and finally had a child, he has much more profound kind of happiness, because the path he took to get there involved a lot of perseverance (and he recognizes that). The happiness of your achievement is really based on seeing the change to your situation, thus the greater you see how your situation changed from bad to good, the greater the happiness.

The Future Happiness

The happiness of the future redemption will also be this kind of happiness, but on a much higher level. It will be a major change to our situation, and that is why we will be so happy. It will be a very great happiness because of this long, painful exile we are in. The pain of this exile only adds to the quality of the future happiness. The depth of our whole exile is really that most people are only happy when they have results. But in the future, it will be revealed to all people the way to be happy with even the path to get there. Then, our happiness will be perfect. (For now, we cannot reach the perfect happiness, and thus we will have to settle with imperfect happiness, which we are describing).

Knowing Why We Are Happy

What we must ask ourselves is: are we happy with only our achievements, or are we happy even with what we are putting in in order to get there? We need to become aware what is making us happy. The way we are defining happiness here is not what we are used to. We will therefore elaborate more on the definition of happiness, and then these words will appear simpler.

Let’s say a person is happy when he achieves something. What does that mean? If you think about it, it’s not really a happiness that comes from getting what he wanted. It is really because he breathes a sigh of relief: “It’s finally over.”

Happiness is really to be happy with whatever it was that brought me to my happiness. How do we know this? Happiness is the opposite of sadness. Sadness is when a person puts in effort and doesn’t see results; a person is very sad when he fails after trying so hard to get something. If that is sadness, then happiness, which is the opposite of this, is the other way around: when a person is happy with doing something that brought him to what he wanted.

So happiness is not experienced when I get what I wanted; it is more about getting to what I want. Sadness, by contrast is when I don’t see results, and thus all my efforts are in vain – which makes me sad. (If I wouldn’t base my happiness on results, I wouldn’t be sad, because I could just appreciate my efforts.)

This is why it is not possible in this world to be totally happy, because all of us have some fruitless efforts; this makes us partially sad, even though we have other achievements. Chazal praise a person who “rejoices in his suffering”. The depth of this is that a person rejoices in the path he is on, which is that he is on his way toward being healed. It’s not that he has to enjoy his suffering for the sake of suffering; it is rather that he is happy because he recognizes that he is on a certain path (the road to his recovery, which may involve some suffering).

The Condition Needed

There is a condition for this kind of happiness to work: A person has to be able to see that he eventually will have results from what he is doing now. (This can either be because he has emunah, or because it just makes sense that he will see results from his efforts.)

Meaning, if a person just embarks on an unrealistic goal, he won’t be able to be happy, because realistically speaking, he can’t say that his efforts will get him any results. But if he is on a path in which his goal is a realistic possibility, then he’s able to be happy – even before he gets to his goal.

What is the understanding of this? Superficially, this is like when someone is told, “Don’t worry, everything will turn out good in the end.” But that is not the depth behind it.

A person is sad because he is doing something that is moving along slowly and fruitlessly – it doesn’t seem like he’s getting anywhere; he’s on a path which will not bear any results. Such a person indeed is not able to derive happiness from what he’s doing. Why? Happiness comes from moving toward a goal, and a person who doesn’t seem to be making any progress in what’s he’s doing isn’t moving.

But if someone is on a realistic undertaking to get toward a certain goal, then he can be happy now even before he gets to his goal, because he’s moving along a realistic path to get to a realistic goal, and that’s something that can give him happiness.

Now that we have understood this, it is apparent that a person cannot be happy even when he gets what he wanted to achieve if he wasn’t aware of how he got there. If a person is happy with his efforts, then he can be happy with his results, but if he isn’t happy with his efforts, he won’t even be happy either when he gets his results.

How To View Your Failures

Now we can go a step further with all this.

If a person understands this, he is able to make himself happy even “retroactively” – it is possible to undo all your frustration! How?

The whole reason why we ever became frustrated was because we failed in our life at certain situations; all of us have gone through failures and very difficult times. The only reason why we were frustrated at our failures was because we only wanted to see results, and we aren’t aware of the happiness we could have been having with the efforts we put in.

To illustrate, Chazal say1F2 that if a person tells you, “I tried, and I succeeded – believe him; but if he tells you, “I didn’t try, yet I succeeded” – don’t believe him.” The depth behind this is that in order for a person to really achieve, he needs to be aware of his efforts. If he wasn’t aware of his efforts, then he won’t even arrive at his achievement, so don’t believe him if he says, “I didn’t try yet I succeeded.”

When we don’t see results from our efforts, it makes us sad. It a death-like kind of feeling not to achieve, and it reminds a person of death, which is epitome of sadness.

But if a person is aware that he is on a path that can lead to results, he can be happy even before he sees results. Not only that, but even if he didn’t see any results in the end, he can turn all his frustration into happiness – by becoming aware that he put effort into something. After all, he engaged in a realistic, worthy undertaking. So what if he didn’t see results from it? He was involved in trying to achieve a realistic goal. That itself is a reason to be happy.

If we become aware now that we took certain steps to get to our results, then we can make ourselves happy with those efforts, even if they were failures!

In this way, we can turn all our sadness and frustration into happiness; we can clean ourselves up from all the “dirt” (sadness) that has piled up on our soul from all the years until now, and turn all of our bad experiences into happiness – when we remember that what causes us to be happy is our efforts, not our results. The whole reason that we weren’t happy in the first place was because we lacked the awareness of our efforts and only focused on the results, which we didn’t get. So now, become aware of all your efforts you made (which would have made you happy then, had you been aware of it), and you will discover that all of your frustration can be undone. It’s like giving your soul a cleaning.

Guide to Buying Tzitzit

In Parsha Bamidbar, the Torah instructs us to wear tzitzit “in order to remember and fulfill all of [the] mitzvahs” (Bamidbar 15:40). To explain the mitzvah, the Midrash brings an analogy of a ship passenger who fell into the water. The captain throws him a line, shouting, “Hold onto the rope and don’t let go, otherwise your life is finished!”

The following tzitzit primer was sent to us courtesy of Ben Slobodkin, owner of Ben’s Tallit Shop.

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Tzitzit is considered a special, cherished mitzvah, because it helps us cleave to all of the other mitzvahs. Since we are enjoined to perform mitzvahs in an aesthetically pleasing manner – zeh Keli ve’anveiHu – wearing a nice tallit katan is commendable.

Wool or Cotton

According to the Shulchan Aruch, fabrics besides wool require tzitzits only according to Rabbinical Law, but the Rema rules that cotton and other fabrics must have tzitzits min haTorah (O.C. 9,1). Therefore Sephardim are usually stringent while Ashkenazim are often lenient. The Mishna Berura and the Pele Yoetz both state that even for Ashkenazim wool is preferable, whereas the Vilna Gaon and the Chazon Ish zt”l were known to wear cotton and Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l held that during the hot summer months, even according to Ashkenazim one can wear a tallit katan made of cotton if he finds wool uncomfortable.

Wool is more expensive than cotton, but it is also more durable and offers a number of other advantages. From my experience, wool tallit katan garments are generally of high quality, whereas cotton can be quite flimsy. If you go with cotton, make sure the eyelets are reinforced, otherwise the fabric will tear easily if the tzitzits get tugged for whatever reason. Tallit katan garments are sometimes made from a thicker, sturdy cotton fabric and feature high quality stitching, but this type is hard to find.

Strings and Knots

If you buy a tallit katan with the tzitzits already tied, look them over if possible. The quality of the knots can vary tremendously. I’ve seen factory tied tzitzits that were not even fully tied.

Tzitzits strings must be made leshem tzitzits (i.e. with intention to fulfill the mitzvah). The question is from what point in the production process this is required. The prevalent opinion is from the spinning stage. Whether machine-spun tzitzits can be made leshem tzitzits is questionable, therefore I strongly recommend buying hand-spun tzitzits, particularly since the difference in cost is relatively small (about $5). Sometimes you will come across tzitzits strings that are reinforced at the tips, which can preclude the need for dabbing glue or making little knots on the ends.

If you want the best tzitzits money can buy, look for niputz lishmah, which are made leshem mitzvah starting from the carding stage. According to the Rema, the custom is to be lenient, whereas the Mishna Berara notes that the Maharal of Prague and the Prisha held it’s best to be stringent in this regard. Expect to pay three times the cost of regular hand-spun tzitzit strings.

Here in Israel the Eida Chareidit of Jerusalem recently started insisting that tzitzits strings made under their supervision be made leshem mitzvah starting from the “lashonot” stage, which comes just before spinning. These tzitzits are known as “lashonot hatzemer” and are only slightly more expensive than other hand-spun tzitzits.

If you can’t afford to spend any money on tzitzits, there are still hiddurim available to you. First of all, you can make a point of tying the tzitzits yourself, since Chazal tell us doing a mitzvah yourself is better than having someone do it for you. There are also side benefits to be gained from DIY tzitzits tying: you will become more familiar with the mechanics behind the mitzvah and won’t be hapless if you ever face broken tzitzits strings.

Size Requirement

Another hiddur is to make a point of wearing a size and design that meets the minimum size requirements according to all opinions. How big does a tallit katan have to be? Both the height and the width must be 50 cm according to Rav Chaim Na’eh, 55 cm according to Rav Moshe Feinstein and 60 cm according to the Chazon Ish. Whether you measure from the bottom of the slit in front or from the neckline is subject to some debate, but the widespread custom is to be lenient. If you prefer to be stringent, try to find a tallit katan with a round neck or sew it closed before you tie on the tzitzits.

Ben Slobodkin grew up in Los Angeles, has a bachelor’s degree from UC Santa Cruz and is an alumnus of Yeshivat Dvar Yerushalayim. He owns and operates Ben’s Tallit Shop, an Israel-based tallit and tzitzit webstore.

Originally posted in June 2011.

Groups Within Orthodoxy

A while ago, Steg, a Beyond BT commentor defined the following principles of Left Wing Modern Orthodoxy in a comment. He wrote

Please stop confusing LWMO with MO-Lite. LWMO is:
1. a generally positive view of general society (i.e. “what’s out there that can make me a better person/jew” as opposed to “what’s out there that i should avoid in order to be a better person/jew”)
2. a preference for lenient opinions over more stricter ones, especially for the sake of preserving community
3. a differentiation between halakha and sociology; i.e., just because something “isn’t done” doesn’t mean it’s forbidden, and if it’s not forbidden, and there are good reasons for it, do it (commonly found in issues of gender and women’s roles)
4. a valuing of integration over isolationism, both in cooperating with other Jewish groups and in views on interacting with Non-Jews
5. an acceptance of academic methodology as part of learning Torah (such as Critical Talmud study, and Literary Analysis of Tanakh)

We thought it might be useful to define some principles of the other wings of Orthodoxy. This is a work in progress and your comments and corrections are appreciated. (Originally published in June 2008)

Left Wing MO Right Wing MO Left Wing UO Right Wing UO
Believe In G-d Yes Yes Yes Yes
Believe in Torah From Sinai Yes Yes Yes Yes
Believe in Reward & Punishment Yes Yes Yes Yes
Believe Mitzvah Observance is Obligatory Yes Yes Yes Yes
Halachic Adherence Lenient Normative Halacha Normative Halacha Strict
Scholarly Approach to Torah Full Acceptance Partial Acceptance Little Acceptance Rare Acceptance
Women’s Learning Gemora Taught Gemora Usually Not Taught Gemora Not Taught Gemora Not Taught
         
Normative Occupation Business, Profession Business, Profession Business, Profession, Chinuch Learning, Chinuch
Attitude Towards General Society Positive Potentially Positive Cautious Dismissive
Interaction with Non Jews Frequent Cautious Occasional Rare
Integration with Non Orthodox Groups Frequent Cautious Occasional Rare
Non Traditional Women’s Roles Very Accommodating Accommodating Occasionally Accommodating Not Accommodating
         
Left Wing MO Right Wing MO Left Wing UO Right Wing UO
Mixed Teenage Socializing Accepted Not Encouraged Not Accepted Not Accepted
Mixed Fund Raising Dinners Accepted Accepted Partially Accepted Not Accepted
Mixed Shmorg at Weddings Vast Majority Significant Majority Separate With Crossover No
Mixed Seating Weddings Accepted Sometimes Never Never
Men’s Dress Cultural Norms Suits, Business Casual Suits, Colored Shirts Dark Suits, White Shirts
Women’s Dress Cultural Norms, Hair Not Covered No Pants, Hair Covered No Pants, Hair Covered No Pants, Hair Covered, Legs Covered
         
Secular Studies Encouraged Encouraged Accepted Necessary for Occupation
Secular Fiction Accepted Accepted With Limits Sometimes Accepted Rarely Accepted
Secular Non Fiction Accepted Accepted Sometimes Accepted Rarely Accepted
         
Television & Movies Vast Majority Majority Minority Insignificant Minority
Internet Vast Majority Significant Majority Sometimes Sometimes
Video Games Vast Majority Significant Majority Sometimes Sometimes

Shovavim

It’s the period of Shovavim. Here’s some links on the whys and wherefores of Shovavim.

Shovavim and Self Improvement:

Shovavim is an acronym for the parshiyot that we read during the period between Chanukah and Purim. Rav Nachman Cohen writes that this period is an auspicious time to repent for Adam’s sin with the Eitz Hadaat and his subsequent errant behavior, pegimat habrit, for which mankind suffers until today. Why do we specifically repent now for the sin of Adam?

This period falls after the winter solstice when the days begin to get longer. When Adam sinned, the days began to get shorter and he thought it was because of his sin. When the days began to get longer again, he realized he was not doomed and that his repentance had been accepted. Thus this period is an eit ratzon where one can connect to Hashem.

Working on curbing one’s physical desires and avoiding inappropriate pleasures seems male focused. What is the corollary for women? The Maharal says that the primary praise of a woman is her level of tzniut. Rav Pincus writes that because Adam and Chava did not conduct themselves modestly, the snake desired Chava and devised a plot to make her sin. Therefore, in a sense, the sin of Eitz Hadaat came about through immodesty.

What is modesty? It is a call to concentrate our energies on our inner personality, our spiritual nature, which is deep and hidden within us. We must become attuned to our souls instead of getting caught up in the outer trappings of the physical world. Shovavim is not only a time to work on tzniut but a time of introspection, a time to work on our relationship with Hashem. This entails watching our behavior with the awareness that we are in the presence of Hashem. It is irrelevant what other people think. Life is about walking alone with Hashem. Elevating mitzvot to a higher level by practicing modesty in deed – not talking about the mitzvot you’ve done, is an appropriate goal to work on during Shovavim.

Shovavim Tat:

There are a number of reasons given for this period of Teshuvah:
1) During this period we read the parshiyot which describe the Jews’ suffering and exile in Egypt and their redemption, salvation, and exodus by the Hand of God. Just as Israel in the Torah called out from their physical exile, so too we call out of our personal spiritual exile. Just as the Jewish people overcame the darkness of the Egyptian exile so too we try to overcome the spiritual darkness in our lives and come closer to God from whom we are separated.

2) Many Chassidic and Kabbalistic sources describe the focus of this period as strengthening our resolve in areas of family purity (Taharat Hamishpacha) and in studying and keeping the laws of family purity.

A Sign of the Times:

Shovavim is something that came from the Mekubalim. I once heard it explained that as the generations get weaker, Hashem reveals to us the hidden light that can be found deeper into the year. Let’s face it, we didn’t really do a great job on Aseres Yimei Tshuva and Hashem is showing us these loopholes and extensions because he yearns for us to return and wants us to take advantage. This ties in nicely with something I heard from the Chofetz Chaim who when asked skeptically about Yom Kippur Katan, said that we no longer can go a whole year without a Yom Kippur. We need one once a month.

Ten for the Tenth of Teves

Ten points about the Tenth of Teves from an article by Rabbi Berel Wein.

1) The Tenth of Tevet marks the onset of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylonia, and the beginning of the battle that ultimately destroyed Jerusalem.

2) The date of the Tenth of Tevet is recorded for us by the prophet Yechezkel, who himself was already in Babylonia as part of the first group of Jews exiled there by Nebuchadnezzar, 11 years earlier than the actual destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem itself.

3) The Tenth of Tevet is viewed as such a severe and important fast day that it is observed even if it falls on a Friday (erev Shabbat), while our other fast days are so arranged by calendar adjustments as to never fall on a Friday, so as not to interfere with Shabbat preparations.

4) On the eighth of Tevet, King Ptolemy of Egypt forced 70 Jewish scholars to gather and translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. Even though the Talmud relates to us that this project was blessed with a miracle

5) The 70 scholars were all placed in separate cubicles and yet they all came up with the same translation

6) The general view of the rabbis of the time towards this project was decidedly negative. The Talmud records that when this translation became public “darkness descended on the world.”

7) The ninth day of Tevet is held to be the day of the death of Ezra the Scribe. This great Jew is comparable even to Moses in the eyes of the Talmud. “If the Torah had not been granted through Moses, it could have been granted to Israel through Ezra.”

8) Ezra led the return of the Jews to Jerusalem from their Babylonian exile. It was under his direction and inspiration, together with the help of the court Jew, Nechemiah, that the Second Temple was built, albeit originally in a much more modest scale and style than the grandeur of Solomon’s Temple.

9) Since fasting on the eighth, ninth and 10th days of Tevet consecutively would be unreasonable, the events of the eighth and ninth were subsumed into the fast day of the Tenth of Tevet.

10) The rabbinic policy of minimizing days of tragic remembrances played a role in assigning the Holocaust remembrance to the Tenth of Tevet for a large section of the Israeli population.

Tenth of Teves Reading and Listening

Rebbetzin Heller on Lost in Translation: The Month of Tevet

What’s the difference between the Septuagint (the 70-man translation) and ArtScroll?

Ptolemy wanted to Hellenize the Torah. He wanted it in his library along with the other classics of his time. To him it was inconceivable that a God-given document and one written by man should be treated differently.

The goal of Torah is to present us with a way of life; one that will change us and take us to parts unknown — Gods infinity. The purpose of other works is to give us greater insight into ourselves and into the world. One deals with human beings and their world, while the other deals with a world far beyond the limitations of human observation. The authors of today’s translations want to let everyone experience Torah by making them bigger. Ptolemy wanted to give everyone access to Torah by dwarfing its scope to fit the limitations of the human mind.

Rabbi Berel Wein on the Tenth of Teves:

The Tenth of Tevet is one of the four fast days that commemorate dark times in Jewish history. The others are Tisha B’Av (the day of the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem), the 17th of Tammuz (the day of the breaching of the defensive wall of Jerusalem by Titus and the Roman legions in 70 CE), and the third of Tishrei (the day that marks the assassination of the Babylonian-appointed Jewish governor of Judah, Gedaliah ben Achikam. He was actually killed on Rosh Hashana but the fast day was advanced to the day after Rosh Hashana because of the holiday).

Rabbi Noach Weinberg on the Seige of Jerusalem:

On the Tenth of Tevet, 2,500 years ago, Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of Jerusalem. Actually, there was little damage on that first day and no Jews were killed. So why is this day so tragic? Because the siege was a message, to get the Jewish people to wake up and fix their problems. They failed, and the siege led to the destruction of the King Solomon’s Temple.

Today we are also under siege. Much of the Jewish world is ignorant of our precious heritage. Children whose Jewish education ended at age 13 now carry that perception through adulthood. The results are catastrophic: assimilation in the diaspora, and a blurring of our national goals in Israel.

Rabbi Yehudah Prero on The Fast of the Tenth of Teves, “Asara B’Teves”

The Aruch HaShulchan concludes that we fast on this day because it marks the beginning of our sorrows – the first event in a chain which resulted in the eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the exile of the nation of Israel. In the event that it were possible for this day to fall out on Shabbos (which it can not, because of our calendar system), there are authorities which said that we would still fast, although fasting on the Shabbos day is forbidden. Why would we nevertheless fast? We would fast because the words used by G-d to describe the events to the prophet Yechezkel were the same words used in conjunction with the description of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, on which we fast even if the day falls out on the Shabbos: the words “On this very day” “B’etzem hayom hazeh.”

If you haven’t yet listened to Rabbi Schiller’s tape on Orthodox Achdus, which gives a sophisticated and realistic approach to dealing with differences within Orthodoxy, please take the time today to give it a listen. You can download or listen to Orthodox Achdus here.

Chanukah – Miracles Within – Bilvavi

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Drashos on Chanukah

Miracles – When Nature Is Overcome[1]

On Chanukah, we make a blessing of שעשה ניסים לאבותינו, expressing our thanks to Hashem for this time where He performed miracles for us. Although we also experienced miracles on Pesach, only the Rabbinical festivals of Chanukah and Purim contain a blessing where we thank Hashem for the miracles performed, which we express in the prayer of Al HaNissim in Shemoneh Esrei.

Hashem runs the world through a system of laws He created which we know as “nature” (teva), and He also built into this a system that works above the normal laws of “nature”: miracles (nisim). Hashem has allowed the laws of “nature” that He created to be the system of the normal “laws” (chukim) which He runs the world with.

When we analyze Creation deeper, there are actually different kinds of “nature” in creation. There are four classifications in Creation: the non-living objects (doimem), plants (tzomeiach), animals (chai), and people (medaber). Each of these has their own specific natures. Human beings, animals, plants, and inanimate objects each have their own specific kind of “nature”.

Each of the creations has their limitations. If Hashem enables a rock to grow and have life to it, it would be a miracle for the rock, because the nature of a rock is that it cannot grow. If Hashem were to allow a plant to move from place to place like an animal can, this would be a miracle for the plant, because a plant’s nature is that it does not grow. If an animal is allowed by Hashem to talk, such as the donkey of Bilaam who was allowed to talk, this is a miracle for the animal, because an animal’s nature is that it cannot talk.

Thus, what is the depth of a miracle (nes)? It is when a different “nature” is revealed in something. A miracle is not simply that Hashem changes the rules. Rather, as the Ramban and others explained, the definition of a “miracle” is when a lower level creation is allowed to function on a level that is normally above its natural level. When a rock can grow, when a plant can walk, when an animal can talk, these are all miracles, because they would be functioning on a higher level than they are normally on. Thus, in the days of Chanukah, we experienced “miracles” in the sense that a higher level of creation was revealed within this lower realm that we dwell on.

Becoming Uplifted To A Higher Level

When one has a difficulty (nisayon\נסיון), either his avodah is to find a way to run away from it (וינס), such as what happened with Yosef when he had to run away from the wife of Potiphar; and sometimes the avodah of going through a nisayon is to bear through it and thereby become uplifted from it (להתנוסס).

When the family of the Chashmonaim had to go to war with the Greeks, it was a nisayon for them, and they passed the test, becoming uplifted from it and rising to a higher level than before. That was the miracle. The Chashmonaim faced some difficulty in their avodah in their own individual souls, and because they passed the difficulty, they were elevated to a higher level, where miracles were performed for them.

In clearer terms, as mentioned earlier, a miracle is when a lower level creation is allowed by Hashem to function on a higher level. This can apply within human beings as well: what is considered nature for one person might be considered a miracle for another person, and vice versa. If Shimon is on a lower spiritual level than Reuven, and Shimon rises to the level of Reuven (which is a natural level for Reuven to be on), this is a miracle for Shimon.

Thus, every year when Chanukah returns, where the spiritual light of “miracles” is revealed, this does not simply mean that the miracles of Chanukah are revealed to us in the very same way it was revealed to us last year. Rather, the definition is that if we have risen to higher levels since a year ago, last year’s miracle isn’t considered a miracle anymore for us, because it has now become our natural level.

The spiritual light of the miracles are shined upon us during this time of the year, as our Sages explain, but the depth of this concept is that it depends on the level we have reached since last year. If one has passed more nisyonos (difficulties) since last year, he merits a greater level of “miracle” this year, because now that he has become more elevated since last year’s level, the miracle of last year is now his natural level, and he is now ready to receive greater miracles than the year before.

Overcoming Our Own Personal Natures

Applying this to us on a personal level, every person has his own “natures” which Hashem has implanted into his soul. There are four elements contained in our various “natures”: fire, wind, water, and earth. These are the roots of our negative middos (character traits). Fire is the root of conceit and anger, wind is the root of idle speech, water is the root of seeking hedonistic pleasure, and earth is the root of sadness and laziness, with their branching traits.[2] These are the natures of our middos. When one works to improve his middos, he is really working to uproot the various natures that Hashem has implanted in him.
Read more Chanukah – Miracles Within – Bilvavi

American Holidays – Thanksgiving Survival Guide, Really Short Version

For the last several years I have not had to face being around my family during any of the chagim because I had lived in Israel. Saying no to attending family holidays, for many people it is an extremely difficult burden to face. How do you say no when it is family? But how can you say yes to the Pesach Family Seder that lasts about 15 minutes and the Rosh Hashanah Meal both First and Second Night that isn’t kosher or Sukkot Chol Hamoed Lunch that isn’t in a Sukkah even when it isn’t raining.

It is so hard because we love our family and we bend over backwards not wanting to alienate them from frumkite, chas v’shalom. But lets face it…knowing that the chagim are all about our relationship with HaKadosh Baruch-Hu and we just can’t get “there” to the loftiest of places in a home where there isn’t Kiddusha…or at least the brand of Kiddusha we need especially on a Yom Tov.

So how do you get out of the holiday of Thanksgiving? It never falls on a Shabbat…ok and it isn’t a Yom Tov… no problem there. The truth is, at least for me, Turkey-Day is the one holiday I don’t want or need to “get out of”. This year, for the first time in many years, I was able to and did attend the Family Thanksgiving Dinner. So here is my Survivors Guide, really short version, to spending Thanksgiving (or July 4th, Memorial Day, Labor Day, New Years Day fill in the blank __ Day) with your family.

It is really important that you are able to do the most important thing on Thanksgiving and that is of course EAT. Waking up early on Thanksgiving, my kosher turkey went in the oven. Quickly the house was filled with all the smells of my childhood. I made everything I needed to feel good at the table…

I was able to sit next to my cousins (of course still at the children’s table) and stuff my belly with yummy Thanksgiving delicacies. I even had enough leftovers at home in the fridge to feel very American on “Black Friday”. The mashed potatoes were my “contribution” to the cornucopia feast. Of course they were parve. I couldn’t bring the traditional buttery potatoes to set along side the table of turkey and spiral-cut-you-know-what!

At the end of the evening as we all reclined in our chairs, everyone wanted to know how I made the yummy dilled mashed fluffy stuff. They were all stunned to hear about my secret to make them creamy with out milk or butter (margarine and light mayonnaise). Smiling to myself I thought of my own theory. They tasted so yummy because they were the only kosher thing on the table…of course other than my shiny aluminum pan, double wrapped foil peeled back filled with all the essentials: half a turkey breast, a mini portion of yams with marshmallow, challah stuffing, string bean casserole and of course parve mashed potatoes. FYI … you can follow the Libby’s Pumpkin Pie recipe on the label but instead of condensed milk, replace with soy milk and Rich’s cream frozen.

Originally Posted in the Birth Months of BBT in Dec 2005

An Awesome Place, Time and Soul at the Kotel

On a trip to Eretz Yisroel a few years ago, I had the good fortune to rent an apartment in Kfar David in Mamilla, very close to the Jaffa Gate. I davened almost every Tefillah at the Kotel, except for Shabbos when we were in Ramat Beis Shemesh.

Davening at the Kotel is amazing because it’s a Minyan factory and you get to join together with all types of Jews from the four corners of the world. However, I do find it distracting at Shacharis, between the people collecting Tzedakah and the simultaneous Minyanim going on at a somewhat loud volumne.

On my first Shacharis I went to the Vasikin minyan, which is at sunrise and is the best time to Daven according to the Shulchan Aruch. So here I was, at the best place-the Kotel, at the best time-sunrise, and with a great collection of Jewish souls from around the world. And to top it all off, since it was Vasikin every Minyan starts Shemoneh Esrai at the same time and the entire Kotel would be quiet together.

So I stepped into Shemoneh Esrai anticipating the sweet sound of silence, but unfortunately perfection was not to be found. There was one individual who was davening very loudly well into our Shemoneh Esrai. So there were 300 souls with the opportunity to join in Tefillah at the perfect time at the perfect place, but one person was out of step.

I decided to write three endings to this piece:

1) How does Hashem judge this situation. On the one hand the person was davening to Hashem in sincerity, but at the same time he was disturbing many other people in a situation where total quiet was a possibility.

2) I need to work more on my davening. If I really worked on it, I could daven anywhere without being distracted. Perhaps wanting or needing silence is really a deficiency in my davening.

3) We’re in Golus and even if we’re at the perfect place and the perfect time, it’s our souls that need correcting. That begins with me working on caring about this unknown individual as much before the Shemoneh Esrai as after. He’s a great Yid who made the same journey I did to daven at this awesome place and time. Even if he was mistaken in this one act, I make plenty of mistakes myself and I hope people judge me favorably.

So at the end of the day, maybe it was better that there was no silence. After all place, time and silence are external and davening is an internal act. And becoming a little more forgiving from this incident is probably more important than finding the perfect Place, Time and Soul at the Kotel.

Originally Published February 2010

Let’s Share the Joy

By Jonathan Rosenblum

A recent Israeli study concluded that chareidim are happier than their secular counterparts — and not just by a little bit. Sixty-two percent of the chareidim interviewed expressed a high degree of satisfaction with their lives, as opposed to just 26 percent of the secular Jews. And that is despite the fact that chareidim, on average, have far lower per capita incomes.

The study is just one in a long line of such studies yielding similar results. One team of Israeli researchers explained the life satisfaction differential in terms of the far higher levels of hakaras hatov (gratitude) and optimism among chareidim. A sense of gratitude, as opposed to an attitude of entitlement, is deeply ingrained in chareidi life. It starts first thing in the morning with Modeh Ani, and is reinforced throughout the day in countless ways, such as the recitation of asher yatzar.

Optimism goes hand in hand with the feeling that our lives are guided by a beneficent G-d. The confidence that good may come from even negative experiences comes naturally to chareidim raised from an early age on stories of Nachum Ish Gamzu and Rabi Akiva proclaiming, “Kol d’avid Rachmana l’tava avid — All that Heaven does is for the good.”

The very definition of “one who is happy” as “one who rejoices in his portion” reinforces both optimism and gratitude. The meaning of the mishnah in Avos (4:1) is that the key to happiness is the recognition that Hashem provides each of us with what we need for our mission in life. If that is the case, there is no reason to think that a greater measure of life’s “goodies” would enhance one’s ability to fulfill one’s mission. By the same token, optimism flows from knowing that one has been apportioned what one needs for that mission.

Researchers distinguish between two types of happiness: hedonic and eudaemonic. The latter refers to a general sense of well-being, and, in contrast to hedonic pleasure, is associated with a large number of positive outcomes: longer life expectancy, lower rates of heart disease, reduced chances of Alzheimer’s.

The four elements most identified with high levels of eudaemonia are intrinsic to an Orthodox life. The first is the awareness of a transcendent realm — i.e., of a G-d above. The second is belonging to a community. Communal prayer, shared life rhythms determined by the calendar, large families all provide a strong social support network for chareidim. A third element is the ability to present one’s life story as a coherent whole. That is something much easier for Orthodox Jews to do because they see their lives as guided by G-d. Finally, a sense that one’s life has meaning. There are multiple sources for that meaning and purpose, including Rav Chaim of Volozhin’s extended description in Nefesh HaChaim of how each thought, work, action has the power to open up pipelines of blessing to the world.

FROM THE HIGHER LEVELS of life satisfaction among chareidim, I take away two messages. First, it is not just that the Torah contains many life prescriptions that if followed will make people happier; but also that Jews who define themselves by their commitment to Torah really do take those prescriptions seriously. And as a consequence, their whole approach to life differs radically from that of the world outside our community. In short, the Torah’s message penetrates our inner psyches.

My second takeaway is how much we have to offer our fellow Jews, indeed the world at large. Rabbi Noach Weinberg used to say, “In an insane world, we are the least insane.” By that, he meant (I think) that being an observant Jew does not guarantee a blissful marriage, or that one will be a perfect parent, or that our children will fulfill all our dreams for them. Nothing goes without constant work on our middos, which, according to Rav Chaim Vital, are scarcely mentioned directly in the Torah because they are the precondition for the acceptance of Torah.

Yet we have been given a set of rules by which to live that provide the greatest possibility of human fulfillment because they come from the Creator of human nature, and thus comport with it.

Of late, I find myself thinking that much of modern existence has become completely unmoored from human nature, particularly the imperative of family formation without which humankind cannot survive. My most recent data point is an excellent article by Suzy Weiss at her older sister Bari’s site, in which she interviews young women, one only 19, who have had or are planning operations to ensure that they never bear children. Their reasons vary. One cites her plan to retire early and travel the world unencumbered by responsibilities; another, her lousy parents and wish to avoid their mistakes; a third, the inevitability of some suffering in even the most blessed life; a fourth, a desire not to add to the toll on Mother Earth from too many humans.

While their stories do not alone prove a trend, Weiss brings evidence of the decline in matrimony and childbearing as well. American marriage rates are at an all-time low — 6.5 per thousand. Millennials (born 1981–1996) are the first generation in which a majority (56 percent) are unmarried at this stage in their lives, and more likely to be living with their parents in their twenties and thirties.

In half the states, deaths outnumbered births last year; the preceding year, that was the case in only five states. Nearly two-fifths of Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012) are afraid of having children because of the impending climax apocalypse. A survey of a representative sample of American adults conducted in Michigan found that over one-quarter are childless by choice. In San Francisco, dogs outnumber children.

We are now 60 years into the revolution that set out to release human pleasure to hitherto undreamed of heights by tearing down all traditional norms of courtship and marriage. Yet like most revolutions, it did not quite turn out like it was supposed to. Instead of increasing joy, the revolution has been accompanied by higher rates of mental illness, anxiety, and depression in every subsequent generation.

Men and women have been turned into two suspicious, warring camps, to the benefit of neither. Finding themselves constantly condemned for their toxic masculinity, many males at some point stopped trying. On American college campuses today, women outnumber men by a 60:40 ratio, and are the majority of law and medical students. But women’s very success has not come without a cost, particularly the absence of men with whom to build a life and family.

An article in Quillette a few months back noted that women are hard-wired to look for men who will serve as providers and protectors. But for the most educated and highest-earning cohort of women, those men are increasingly hard to find. And once found, enticing them into marriage is even harder.

The highly sought-after kind of men whom high-powered women view as marriage material are not so concerned with their partner’s earning capacity and have a wide selection of younger women to choose from. They often feel little impulse to commit at all. As a consequence, about 30 percent of the women in the most educated and highest earning cohort will never marry.

Baruch Hashem, we still live in a society in which the desire is marry and raise children is the nearly unanimous default position. I have no doubt that the richness of familial bonds has a great deal to do with our higher level of feelings of well-being.

But that must not remain our secret alone. Chazal tell us that Yaakov Avinu lost 33 years from his life, one year for each word of his complaint about the difficulties he had endured, in response to Pharaoh’s question — “How old are you?” But there are only 25 words in Yaakov’s answer. Rav Noach Weinberg used to explain, Yaakov Avinu was punished as well for the eight words in Pharaoh’s question, which was provoked by his downtrodden countenance.

Let us not repeat that mistake, but rather project joy in all that we do.

Originally published in Mishpacha Magazine, November 3, 2021
http://www.jewishmediaresources.com/2140/let-share-the-joy

A Brief Introduction to the Works of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

By Rabbi Gershon Seif

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch lived over a century ago, and yet his insights into the Torah and his teachings of the Torah’s view of life remain very current.

This brief essay cannot do justice to an explanation of the times within which Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch lived, his battles, and his worldview. Nor can it provide a real appreciation of his writing which is comprised of commentaries on the Torah, Psalms, Siddur, Ethics of the Fathers, as well as Horeb, an explanation of Jewish Law and the meanings behind those laws, and The Nineteen Letters, Hirsch’s first published work, which serves as an amazing digest of all of Hirsch’s future writings and views. In addition, there are eight volumes of collected writings, mostly culled from his years of writing articles to his community on a wide variety of topics. I highly recommend reading the introduction to Horeb to get a more complete picture of what these works are about as well as appreciating Hirsch’s mission.

Hirsch was the leader of a community at a time in history when change was everywhere. The number of observant Jews in Germany was dwindling as the masses were being swept up with the birth of the Reform movement. Hirsch was the brave warrior who battled two simultaneous battles.

While the older generation of his time was to be commended for its staunch adherence to the Torah, nonetheless Hirsch felt that much of that observance was dry and lacking in depth and meaning. He felt that this was a large part of why so many observant youth had abandoned their faith. Hirsch was an inspired, poetic soul. He saw symbolism in every Mitzvah. He saw meaningful, relevant lessons in every page of history, both Biblical and current. He was forever exhorting the observant community to appreciate the depth and beauty that lies within our Torah.

Those same talents were put to use to stem the tide of Reform. Hirsch challenged those who were abandoning Orthodoxy to have another look. He mocked the Reform’s need for “Up-to-date Judaism”. They needed an education in the beauty and depth of the Torah. They needed to be shown that the Torah is authentic. Symbolism of Mitzvos is only meaningful if they are Mitzvos of God, and if those Mitzvos teach us lessons of how to live, not the other way around. At that time, many were discarding most of the Mitzvos, yet claiming to maintain the spirit of the Torah. Hirsch sought to develop a system of understanding the spirit of the Torah directly from the study of the minute specifics of each Mitzvah. He used his linguistic skills to show profound meaning in every nuance of the Torah’s wording. He wrote many articles debating the claims that the Torah was not God-given.

Perhaps the term that appears most often in Hirsch’s writings is that of Torah Im Derech Eretz. Much ink has been spilled in attempts to explain Hirsch’s take on this Midrashic phrase which became his mantra. Derech Eretz (the way of the land) is taken by Hirsch to mean engaging in the world in a way that will uplift the world and all Mankind. Torah with Derech Eretz means that the Torah guides us through all of our experiences in the world and teaches us how to do this. There are many ways that this manifests itself.

Mitzvah observance is one way. When I keep the laws of kashrus, I sanctify my body and imbue it with all the lessons of the symbolism of that Mitzvah. The Laws of Shaatnez do the same in the realm of the clothes that garb my body. When I make a blessing over wine for Kiddush, the wine becomes elevated, as does the one who makes the blessing. When I buy a home and consecrate the home at the Channukas Habayis, I have elevated the home and myself as well. The family is a further extension of this idea.

Building a community based on Godliness is another way. The Torah gives us a whole body of civil law and teaches us about charity and kindness to sanctify our community life. As Hirsch quotes on numerous occasions when he discusses this topic: “Ikar Shechina B’tachtonim” – God’s presence has descended to this world, and it is our task to raise this world up and allow space for God to fill it.

In this same context, history is understood to be God’s conversation with Mankind. It is our task to understand history and be an active part in that conversation. One needs to understand God’s plan for all of Mankind as well as how and why the Jews are to be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation – A light unto the world.

Earning a livelihood, expressing oneself through the talents of writing, art and music are all part of Derech Eretz. Of course we must always remember that it is Torah Im Derech Eretz. We are all to study Torah daily, and every community has its “Levites” who immerse themselves in the study of Torah completely. But Hirsch was convinced that for the average Jew on the street, his duty was to live a balanced diet of Torah study, communal involvement, and family life.

Hirsch himself attended a secular university as did many people in his community. Without a doubt, before Hirsch came on the scene, the people were already doing so in Germany. It is wrong to assume that it was Hirsch who introduced this notion into Orthodox living. Having been born into such a society and with his understanding of Torah Im Derech Eretz, he had no qualms advising his community to live by that model. Would Hirsch recommend that for today? That’s the subject of a big debate. I believe he would, provided that the students were well equipped to deal with the many challenges that confront a young, impressionable student that might otherwise shake his or her faith and level of observance.

Four Top Misconceptions About Judaism

A while ago I attended an excellent seminar in Kew Garden Hills, NY from Project Inspire, a joint initiative of Aish HaTorah and the OU aimed at creating a grass-roots outreach movement. One of the highlights of the evening was a presentation by Rabbi Chaim Samson from Aish about the four main misconceptions about Judaism than non-frum Jews hava, and the four reassurances that can overcome them. While I can’t recreate the full glory of the presentation in a written summary, the ideas are inspiring enough in any format. For anyone involved professionally or casually in outreach, keeping these four misconceptions in mind is a good starting point. The presentation is also great for ba’alei teshuva.

When he was learning at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, Rabbi Samson and his friends would often pass backpackers hanging out in the old city. He and his friends had a running that joke that if they approached two backpackers and asked them if they’d like to spend some time in a yeshiva learning about philosophy, mysticism, ethics, how Judaism can inspire our lives, etc., they would get the same answers every time. One of the backpackers would jump at the chance, saying that he had always wanted to learn more about Judaism. The other would demur and make up a litany of excuses. Inevitably the one who is eager to learn about Judaism would be non-Jewish, and interested in comparative religions or an understanding of the development of religions, and the one who wants nothing to do with the religion would be Jewish.

Why this hesitancy? Rabbi Samson points to four misconceptions that lead to this, and four reassurances which can counter them.

1. Judging Others

First, there’s the misconception that religious Jews look down on non-religious Jews, judging them to be less holy or less of a Jew. So therefore why would a non-frum Jew ever want to walk into a room full of frum Jews, thinking that everyone in the room is judging him?

But this idea is completely contrary to Judaism! At the core of Judaism are the concepts of care, concern and love for our fellow Jews. Judaism brought the ideals of charity, kindness and respect to the world. No matter the religious beliefs of another Jew, we have a mitzvah to love and respect them.

As an illustration, Jewish law rules that if someone puts a gun to your head and tells you to kill someone else, you must refuse. This is based on the Talmudic concept that we can’t know whose blood is redder, for only G-d knows who is holier. Taking the example one step further, if you were forced to choose between killing a homeless, alcoholic bum, who never worked a day in his life, and shooting the Chofetz Chayim, one of the biggest Rabbis of all time, Judaism also would say that you cannot choose. We as humans cannot know which of the two people is holier. Each of us has a mission in this world and a potential we can reach, and we cannot know who is closer to reaching it.

Therefore this is a complete misconception, for it could be that the non-frum Jew is truly on a higher level and closer to G-d that his religious brother! The frum person can gain and learn from his less-religious coreligionist, so we can never say that one person is on a lower level than ourselves.

2. Who wants Judaism? It’s a hardship!

There’s the common misconception that Judaism is a hardship, a deprivation of all enjoyment in the world, and that a non-frum person would have to give up all that he enjoys in life. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Judaism is about sucking the marrow out of life and making the most of it. While we have to temper and focus some of our desires, one of the goals of Judaism is getting the most out of this world and achieving the greatest amount of satisfaction.

One of the most important desires that any parent has for a child is that he or she should be happy. It’s the same for G-d. We are His children, and He wants us to get pleasure in this world and the next. Therefore He shows us how real happiness comes from becoming holy. Learning Torah and keeping mitzvot brings the greatest levels of enjoyment a person can have.

Just as a person would never drive a car without reading the instruction manual, we shouldn’t go through life without first reading the instructions. The Torah is our instruction book, our guidebook for getting the most out of life. When a non-frum Jew sees a beautiful Shabbas table with singing, a closeness among family members and true happiness, he or she gets a taste of real enjoyment. The way to do this is by sincerely showing people that Judaism, the Torah and the mitzvot hold the key to happiness.

3. It’s all or nothing.

Upon seeing the multitude of laws and customs in Judaism, many people will throw up their hands and say “It’s too great for me! I’ll never achieve it all, so why should I try?” When they realize they can’t do everything, they opt for nothing.

But it’s a fallacy to assume that we can achieve everything. There is no person on earth who can honestly say that he’s learned every item of Torah, perfected every mitzvot and learned every secret. No one achieves it all.

Instead we all need to take baby steps. We need to take on new mitzvot one at a time. A person may think it’s hypocritical to only take on particular items, but it’s really being human. We’re all constantly struggling to achieve perfection, but that’s human nature. As long as we’re focused on constantly improving and adding to our observance, taking small steps is the way to go.

For example if a jeweler put 613 precious diamonds on a table and told you to grab as many as you could in a few seconds, it’s obviously impossible to grab them all. But that doesn’t mean you should walk away from the table without trying. You need to try to grab as many as you can at once.

By showing other Jews how easy it is to do single mitzvot, such as lighting candles on Friday night, wearing tzitzit, etc., you’ll inspire them to tremendous heights. One mitzvah leads to another. It’s important to get to know a person well enough to be able to recommend particular mitzvot to them, but the most important item is that slow and steady steps helps one win the race.

4. It’s not true!

Often people outside the spectrum of Torah-true Judaism will think of the religion as archaic and backwards, a belief system for people who lack something and who are less intellectual. This probably stems from a misconception based on other religions that require a leap of faith to accept their laws.

Judaism is based on the completely opposite idea. We believe that not only is there a G-d, but that it’s possible to know that He’s out there, that it’s provable. It’s unreasonable to think that G-d would want us to pray to Him without knowing for sure that He’s there. What would be the point of it? How would we ever achieve the heights of spirituality if we weren’t sure our prayers were being heard?

Judaism is one of the only religions that encourages questions and challenges. These are the central goals of Jewish learning and the cores of Judaism. If we can constantly question and challenge, it’s a tremendous testimony to the veracity of Judaism! G-d wouldn’t encourage us to question if it was impossible to find the truth. Our eagerness to question demonstrates our supreme confidence in the truth of our religion.

Based on these four misconceptions and four reassurances, we also have four key methodologies for reaching out to people:

1. Showing care for people, to show that any thoughts that they’re being judged are incorrect.

2. Demonstrating the beauty and pleasure inherent in Judaism.

3. Taking baby steps to observance.

4. Showing that Judaism is based on truth.

These four statements are fundamental to outreach, and fundamental to our performance of our religion.

To end with my own addition, these four statements are also excellent items to work on as we prepare for the divine tribunal on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These are four areas that we need to constantly work on. By strengthening our love for fellow Jews and refraining from judging them, we become more caring and compassionate people. By making sure that our actions radiate the beauty of Judaism, we remind ourselves and those around us how beautiful our religion is and we enhance our performance of the mitvot. Taking baby steps is the best way to adopt any new mitzvah or practice, and doing so is especially appropriate during this month of Elul. By spending this month taking small steps towards our commitments for next year, we demonstrate to G-d and ourselves that we are sincere and that we will really try to achieve them next year, instead of just jumping into them without preparation on Rosh Hashanah. And by demonstrating to the world that truth is at the core of Judaism, we can inspire ourselves, our families and our communities to greater love and observance of Judaism.

Originally Published in October, 2006

The 60 Second Guide to the Book of Bereishes

In the beginning (Bereishes), G-d created the universe, but Adam and Chava and the next 9 generations failed in G-d’s plan of subjugating their physical to their spiritual side.

Noach was the only righteous man of his corrupt generation, which was destroyed by the flood, and he restarted the spiritual mission, but after another 10 generations mankind was corrupt, and failed at fulfilling their mission.

Avraham went out (Lech Lecha) from his home and achieved unparalleled connection to G-d, Who chose Avraham and his children to inherit the land of Israel, and lead humanity towards creation’s goal, and his first wife Hagar was expelled from his home, and his first son Yishmael was circumcised with Avraham.

Three Angels appeared (Vayera) to Avraham to inform him that Sodom would be destroyed, and that his wife Sarah would give birth to his spiritual heir, Yitzchak, who Avraham was prepared to sacrifice for the sake of G-d.

After the life of Sarah (Chayah Sarah) ended, Avraham’s servant Eliezer found a wife, Rivka, for Yitzchak.

The generations (Toldos) of Yitzchak begin with his twin sons Esau and Yaakov, and Yaakov’s spiritual superiority resulted in him getting Esau’s birthright and Yitzchak’s blessings.

Yaakov went out (Vayeitzei) from his birthplace to escape Esau’s wrath, to his uncle Laban, and married his daughter’s Leah and Rachel, their maidservants Zilpah and Bilhah fathered 12 sons and 1 daughter.

Yaakov sent (Vayishlach) messengers to appease Esau who reconciled with him, and his daughter Dina was captured by the people of Shechem, who were subsequently destroyed by Shimon and Levi.

Yaakov settled (Vayeshev) in Canaan, but his sons faked favored son Yosef’s death, sold him, and he was taken to Egypt, purchased by Potiphar whose wife falsely sent him to jail, where he helped the Pharaoh’s butler get released.

At the end (Miketz) of two years after the butler’s release, Pharaoh had 2 dreams interpreted by Yosef, who was made viceroy and prepared for a famine which caused his brothers to come to Egypt, where Yosef deceived them and imprisoned the youngest brother Binyamin.

Yehudah, the brother’s leader approached (Vayigash) Yosef for Binyamin’s release, and Yosef revealed himself to the brothers, and sent for Yaakov, who moved with the 70 members of his family to Goshen in Egypt.

Yaakov lived (Vayechi) in Egypt for 17 years, and before his death he blessed all the brothers, who were reminded by Yosef, before his death, that they would eventually be taken to the Israel as promised by G-d.

A Baal Teshuva’s Father’s Perspectives

By “David Shub”

As the father of two BTs, the first words of advice to parents of other BTs is to say that you cannot make it a power struggle. Not only is it not a power struggle, but it is not a “fight” of who is right and who is wrong.

If someone had told me these words twenty years ago, when my older child was becoming “frum,” I would probably have become angry. Years of adaptation, adoption, and understanding have softened my initial view points.

Twenty years ago, my wife and I did not understand what was happening to our 14 year old child. The child was raised in a rather non-religious household. (I was raised in a secular Jewish household where religion was often mocked as the “opium of the masses,” but Yiddishkeit was an understood value.) We did join a Reform synagogue so that we would be able to give our kids whatever it was that we were not exposed to. When our daughter studied for her bat mitzvah, she displayed such a passion for Judaism that we thought we had a rabbi in the making. After her bat mitzvah she decided she wanted more, so we allowed her to enroll in a local Sunday Jewish High School that was run by an Orthodox principal and Orthodox teachers. The student body was comprised mostly of children from Conservative and Reform households.

The first “shock” to us occurred when I went one Saturday night to pick up our daughter after a Shabbaton. I walked into the basement of the Orthodox shul, and the students and teachers were sitting in a circle, chanting a strange tune. Periodically, during what I later learned was termed a “kumsitz,” individuals would stand and explain what the Shabbaton had meant to him or her. All I saw was “cult.”

As parents, we did not know where to turn. We knew that we could not deny our daughter’s attraction to this life because she would do things behind our backs. We sought advice of our Reform rabbi and congregation. Better she would have contemplated conversion than to adopt the Orthodox lifestyle, they intimated

High school became difficult for us. Our once athletic child now placed Shabbos before a game. She was going across town to spend Shabbos with friends. We made, what to some seemed a ridiculous decision, to Kasher the kitchen. If your child will not eat at your table, the family unit is destroyed. I remember a family member said to me when she learned what we were undertaking, “No one will come between me and my shrimp!” How foolish a statement.

I will pass over the fights, the arguments, the fears…just to say that we adapted ourselves to what we could no longer fight. Our daughter attended Stern College, a place which we felt was not nearly as academic as she was capable of handling. By the time she turned 21, she had met her “beshert” and had married in a very traditional Orthodox ceremony. I cannot say we “loved” the thick veil, the maheatza, the separate dancing, but we adapted.

Now, there are five grandchildren…and they all sit at our dining room table.

Our son, four years younger than his sister, tolerated much of the arguments in the house while his sister was straying from our path. He honored the Kosher kitchen, he honored the lights and phone restrictions on Shabbas, but he went his own way. He also attended the Sunday Jewish High School, but was not swayed by them. He graduated high school and went on to attend a very prestigious four year college. He graduated with high honors, and moved to Brooklyn where he housed with his college friends. He was the only Jewish boy. He worked in the financial area in New York. When he was around 25, he started to become interested in religion. He also met his “beshert,” although he could not believe that she was Orthodox. Unlike his sister, she was dressed in short sleeves and pants. But there is Modern Orthodox, as well as “black hat” Orthodox. They married in an Orthodox ceremony, with a modern touch. Probably because our daughter paved the way, we were less “stressed” by his route. And, of course, Modern Orthodox is easier to comprehend than the more extreme route.

What do we all want for our children? We hope that they will have married the right mate, and that they will have married into a family that loves and supports them. Our children have done that. Now, we have eleven of us at the dining room table, with a recent high chair with the twelfth addition to the family.

What has been the most difficult aspect to understand? For me, it is probably the covering of the head. Why camouflage beautiful hair with beautiful hair? I still have difficulty understanding that nothing, nothing at all interferes with the observance of Shabbos. I am not totally comfortable with the role of the woman in the family. I am baffled by the laws of “sneis.” I am not comfortable with the Yeshiva education where the secular studies program takes a secondary role.

When my oldest grandson tells me, “Grandpa, you should really wear a kippa,” I respond that “I know…” When my six year old grandson asks me why I drive on Shabbos, I try to explain to him that there are all kinds of Jews.

And when my kids come for Shabbos, we leave the lights on, we do not answer the phone, we make cholent, and leave an urn of water on the counter.

My son-in-law asks me, “Dad, are you thinking of becoming frum?” I respond, “No, not yet.”

In the long run, the Reform temple was wrong. It would not have been better if my children had converted. We have adapted, we have adopted, and we try to understand. It is best that they are Jews and that we sit at the table as a family.

Grandpa of Six (in 2006)

First Published February 7, 2006

Yom Kippur Takeaway – Forgiving Others When We’re Slighted

I was Googling for a web-based description of the origins of Avinu Malkeinu when I came across Rabbi Micha Berger’s great discussion of the trait of ma’avir al midosav – forgiving others when we are slighted:

Rabbi Eliezer once went before the ark [as chazan on a fast day enacted because of a drought] and recited twenty-four berakhos and was not answered. Rabbi Aqiva went [as chazan] after him and said, “Avinu malkeinu — our Father, our King, we have no king other than You! Our Father, our King – for Your sake have compassion for us!” and it started raining. “The rabbis started speaking negatively [about Rabbi Eliezer]. A Heavenly voice emerged and declared, “It is not because this one [Rabbi Akiva] is greater than that one [Rabbi Eliezer], but because this one is ma’avir al midosav and this one is not ma’avir al midosav.” – Ta’anis 25b

Rav Yisrael Salanter (Or Yisrael #28) elaborates. If being a ma’avir al midosav is so important, wouldn’t that mean that Rabbi Aqiva was greater than Rabbi Eliezer after all? Rather, there are two equally valid approaches to serving Hashem. Rabbi Aqiva, being from Beis Hillel, was ma’avir al midosav. Rabbi Eliezer was a member of Beis Shammai (Tosafos Shabbos 130b), and therefore insisted upon strict justice (Shabbos 31a). Both approaches are equally valid, and until the ruling that we are to follow Beis Hillel, both Rabbi Aqiva’s and Rabbi Eliezer’s approaches were equal paths to holiness. However, at a time when we can’t withstand the scrutiny of strict justice, it’s Rabbi Aqiva’s approach that is more appropriate.

Rabbi Akiva, the most prominent Baal Teshuva of all time, teaches us the lesson that rings in our ears throughout all of Yom Kippur – we need to favor forgiveness over demands for justice. We start Kol Nidre by offering forgiveness for all Jews (BT, FFB and Non-Frum) as we join together in a day of prayer. We end with a resounding Avinu Malkenu asking Hashem to forgive us, even though by strict justice – we don’t really deserve it.

Throughout YK, Rabbi Welcher stressed the need for understanding and unity. So, it was very appropriate and moving that during Neilah, five non-religious Jews walked into the Shul. A few who has multiple body piercings came towards my section and they were quickly given Art Scroll Machzorim. As we screamed for mercy they joined us, and nobody gave them a second look. They were Jews who had summed up the awesome courage to walk into an Orthodox Shul and join their brothers in prayer. We welcomed them with open arms.

The message of forgiveness and understanding is the message that Baalei Teshuva know all so well. One of the most recurrent themes we see here on Beyond Teshuva is that BTs often feel like they don’t fit in. We plead to our fellow Frum Jews: Please treat us with mercy. Please don’t judge us. Please don’t make us feel small. Please accept us as who we are and where we want to go.

Since we know this teaching all so well, we are well-positioned to teach it by example, as we show forgiveness and understanding to our non-frum friends and relatives, our talk-in-shul neighbors and all the Jews greater than us in Torah, Tefillah or Gemillas Chasadim. It’s hardest to live this teaching when we’re slighted and put upon, but that was the greatness of our teacher Rabbi Akiva – and that is the greatness we can each achieve as we internalize this message.

Originally published October 2006

Rebbetzin Heller Gottlieb on Approaching the Viduy on Yom Kippur

Adapted from a newsletter article by Rebbetzin Heller Gottlieb

Keep in mind that Hashem accepts you with all of your faults and broken pieces, you needn’t act as if they don’t exist.

Review the viduy before Yom Kippur in the machzor.

Don’t fall into any of the usual traps when you read the list of potential sins that you may have done:
1. What a great list. It’s even alphabetical. How interesting. I think I did everything.
2. I am doomed. I think I’ll go out for pizza. This is too heavy.
3. My life is a mess. It can’t be fixed. No one who had a childhood like mine will ever be clean on the inside.
4. This is extreme. I’m basically a good person. What’s all this breast-beating good for?
5. I hate myself.

Instead, come to grips with the reality of imperfection. If you’re human, you’re imperfect. You have the chance now to open yourself up to greater and higher movement towards being the person you want to be. Every breath you take is a gift from the One who wants to (and can!) understand you totally. Read the list with the same sort of feeling you would have if you were discussing a heartbreaking issue with your therapist. You want to change, that’s why you’re there.

There is one critical difference. Your therapist can only help you hear yourself. Hashem can help you discover a self that you may never have encountered (or may have thought was lost). If you open yourself even a little bit, He will open His Heart to you beyond your greatest hope.

The Avodah of Rosh HaShanah

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download this and a number of other Drashos on Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur

Rosh HaShannah – Avodah of Ben & Eved

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Malchiyus – Declaring Hashem’s sovereignty

Hashem says on Rosh HaShanah, “Declare before Me malchiyus, zichronos, and shofaros; declare malchiyus so that I should rule over you.”[1]

The truth is that in all of the davening on Rosh HaShanah, the only time we mention “zichronos” and “shofaros” is in the tefillah of Mussaf. Throughout all of the tefillos, however, we mention malchiyus. This shows us that malchiyus is the main aspect which we mention on Rosh HaShanah.

“There is no king without a nation.”[2] In order for Hashem to be King on us, so to speak, we need to declare ourselves as His servants. In other words, the avodah we have on Rosh Hashanah is not just to declare Hashem as our King. It is mainly that we become His servants.

Now that we have clarified that the main avodah on Rosh Hashanah is to accept our servitude to Hashem, we must know what it means to be an eved, a servant. If we truly know what it means to be an “eved”, we can understand our mission on this day.

“Eved” – Derogatory or Praiseworthy?

The Gemara[3] says that when we do Hashem’s will, we are called a ben (son) of Hashem, and when we don’t do His will, we are called eved\servant. It seems from this statement that eved is a derogatory title, something we are called when we don’t do Hashem’s will.

However, we find that Moshe Rabbeinu is given the unique title “eved” of Hashem. He is also called “eved ne’eman” – “trustworthy servant of Hashem”.

This is a paradox. Is eved a derogatory title, or is it a praiseworthy title?!

Three Levels

It depends, because there are two implications of the word “eved.”

One person serves his king, not because he loves him, but because he needs the king to fulfill his needs. He’s serving the king all for himself. An eved like this is the negative implication of eved, because all his service to the King is for his own benefit.
There is a higher implication of eved, and that is when the servant doesn’t serve Hashem for his own personal interests, but because he’s devoted entirely to the king. This is the deeper meaning behind why “whatever a servant acquires, his master acquires it” – it is because ideally, a servant has no personal life of his own, and his whole life is devotes to his master. This is the desirable level of eved – and one who acts like this fulfills the purpose of Creation. This was the kind of eved that Moshe Rabbeinu was. It is the meaning behind the Mishnah in Avos, “Do not be like servants who serve their master in order to receive reward, rather, be like servants who serve their master not to get a reward.”
We see from the above that it’s possible for a person to act selflessly and be considered “eved”, and that one doesn’t have to on the level of “ben” in order to reach this. Ben is when a person goes even beyond that and serves the king out of his love.

A person needs to have selfless devotion to Hashem, and this is “eved.” With this as well, a person needs to have serve Hashem out of a love for Him, and this is called “ben.” If so, we have altogether three levels:

The lower kind of eved, one who serves Hashem only because he needs Him.
The higher kind of eved, one who serves Hashem because he lives his life for Him.
Ben, which is when one serves Hashem out of a love for Him.
Practical Guidance for Utilizing Rosh Hashanah

If we want to prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashanah and declare Him as King over us – and that we become His servants – we must understand that if we feel as if we are forced into serving Him, we are being the first kind of eved, and then the whole purpose of Rosh Hashanah will be lost. Our main task on Rosh Hashanah we must do is to be like the second kind of eved: that our whole lives should be about one goal alone – serving Hashem. This should be why we live our life, and we shouldn’t have any other personal desires. This is the inner meaning behind all of our avodah on Rosh Hashanah.

It is not enough just to daven slowly and with concentration on Rosh Hashanah. Our main job on this day is to come to a decision that we will change our lives and live only for Hashem – and not for ourselves.

This job obligates us to make a deep internal clarification. We must know exactly what we want to get out of our life, and to examine our deeds to see if they are line with the goal we are striving for. If one truly decides to live a life of serving Hashem, he has to see if all that he does 24\7 is reflecting this.

How We Can Let Rosh Hashanah Affect Us For The Whole Year

If a person accepts upon himself to become a true eved of Hashem, then Rosh Hashanah must not end for him on the third day of Tishrei; Rosh Hashanah has to carry over into the rest of the year as well, until the next Rosh Hashanah! If a person examines his situation and finds that on Purim and Pesach he doesn’t think about Hashem, it must be that he did not have a good Rosh Hashanah. It shows that he did not accept upon himself on Rosh Hashanah to become an eved of Hashem.

May Hashem merit us that we all accept His sovereignty on Rosh Hashanah, and that we should become His true servants – and through this, we can merit to have the light of Rosh Hashanah affect us the whole year round.

[1] Rosh HaShanah 16b

[2] Kad HaKemach, Rosh HaShanah 70a

[3] Bava Basra 10a

Offering Up Our Egos on the Altar of Elul

I was recently reminded of an incident that happened over 30 years ago. In the English-speaking beis midrash where I learned, smoking was strictly forbidden. The Israelis who davened with us respected the rule even with, according to their cultural predisposition, they couldn’t quite understand it.

On one occasion, a young Israeli new the community lit up right after davening. I was standing near by and asked him politely to put out his cigarette. He waved me away without breaking his conversation. I asked him again, this time more forcefully. This time he complied, extinguishing his cigarette on my sleeve. The other Israeli with whom he had been speaking was considerably more outraged than I was. The young man shrugged his shoulders and walked away with a chuckle.

I didn’t see this young fellow often, but on the infrequent occasions I did I made a point of setting my face into the fiercest scowl I could manage.

It must have been nearly a year later, possibly in Elul, although I can’t say for sure. I was walking along one Shabbos afternoon and spotted the young man coming toward me. As I prepared to scowl at him, I suddenly asked myself what I hoped to accomplish. Surprising myself as much as him, I relaxed my expression and said, “Gut Shabbos.” I don’t remember whether or not he answered me.

Less than a week later there was a knock on my door. Guess who? Yes, it was the same young man holding a stack of seforim in his hands. He offered them to me, and I gave him a quizzical look. He said he wanted to ask forgiveness for the incident with the cigarette.

How little effort it required to restore shalom! How great a reward for so tiny an investment. And yet, how difficult was it for me to make the decision to turn my scowl into words of greeting.

Perhaps, if we thought more about how much we can accomplish through such small expenditures of effort, we would find it easier to set aside our petty egos and choose to do what’s right.

Please visit Rabbi Goldson’s website at www.yonasongoldson.com.
Originally Posted Aug 28, 2008

Pondering The Meaning Of Life

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Talks on Elul

Hashem Helps Us When We Connect Our Actions With Him

ומגן ומושיע עוזר מלך Hashem is our עוזר ,our ultimate Helper.

Hashem is our true Helper. When a person helps another, the one receiving the help is considered the main person. But when Hashem helps us, we realize that Hashem is the main one, and we are just secondary. As it is written, “My help comes from Hashem.”.

Chazal say that our evil inclination gets stronger every day, and if not for Hashem, we cannot overcome it (Sukkah 52a). On a deeper note, our every action needs Hashem’s help. How indeed does Hashem help us? Whenever we do an action, it is considered alive only if we put Hashem into the equation. Although we use our power of bechirah to do good actions, our actions can only be considered ‘alive’ when we realize how we need Hashem to help us, and this gives life to the actions we do. A person might do many good deeds, but inwardly, he can be dead, because there is no life-source to his actions; Hashem is missing from the equation. Once we put Hashem into what we do, Hashem is providing life to our actions, and then the actions we do are alive.

Life Vs. Imagination

A person needs to live an inner kind of life, in which all that he does is inwardly connected to Hashem. We must know what it means to really live life, and what it means to merely imagine what a good life is – to see the differentiation between these two. To illustrate, a child plays a game and is having a good time; he thinks that this is his life. As he begins to get older, he realizes that all his fun was the world of imagination, and that this is not life.

The life which we see in front of us, on this world, is all a world of imagination! In order to really know what our life is, we have to merit from Hashem that He open our hearts to understand what it really is. If our heart hasn’t been opened a little, we do not understand what “life” is at all. We might know what death is, but we won’t know what “life” is.

Our existence is that we are a soul clothed by a body. Therefore, we initially perceive life from the perspective of our body, even if we learn Torah and mitzvos; from the perspective of the body, we have an erroneous perception of what life is about. We have to daven to Hashem that He should open our heart (as we daven in the end of Shemoneh Esrei, “Open my heart to Your Torah”) in order to understand what life really is.

We should look back at out past and see that whatever we thought until now as “life” is not really life, just imagination. Most people are not experiencing the true meaning of life, even if they live for 70 or 80 years. People often do not even experience one moment of true life on this world!

Our neshamah in us knows what real life is. Even when we ask Hashem for life, we do not always know what it is. The meaning of life is really a secret; only our neshamah knows what it is. Sometimes we receive sparks of understanding of what the meaning of life is. But to actually arrive at a total recognition of what life is, we need to have our hearts opened.

During Elul, what are people asking Hashem for? People have all kinds of things they want and ask Hashem for a whole list of things. The more a person asks for various things, the more it shows that he doesn’t understand what life is. We are all asking Hashem for life! In Shemoneh Esrei of Rosh HaShanah, we daven Zochreinu L’Chaim, Melech Chofetz B’Chaim, Kosveinu B’Sefer HaChaim…we keep asking for life, because that is really our central request in Elul. As for our personal requests that we ask of Hashem, most of these requests are not for life itself, but rather about various details that branch out from our life, such as parnassah, etc. The main request which we ask for in Shemoneh Esrei is that we should have life!

Since we are young, we think that we know we are alive. But the truth is that most people don’t even realize what it means to really be alive! People ask Hashem that they be granted life only because they don’t want to die. But as for life itself, to know what it means to be alive – people often do not know what it is. We don’t want Hashem to take away our life, as we daven in the prayer of Shema Koleinu. But what is our life to begin with? What is the life that we are asking for more of? Do we realize the true meaning of what it means to be alive…?

If our hearts begin to become a little opened, we can realize that the kind of life we think we have been living until now is really the world of imagination. Compare this to a child. A child’s perspective on life is not life – it is imagination. It is hard to verbally express this concept in words. The point is that your heart needs to become opened, and then you will know what is being discussed here.

In Elul, we ask for life. We must realize that this world we see in front of us is all imagination! Ever since Adam ate from the Eitz HaDaas, this world became like one big imaginary kind of existence. This is the depth behind the curse of “death” that came to the world – it was a “death” to the ideal state of mankind. So when we ask for life in Elul, the depth of our request is that we are asking Hashem that we be granted the power to leave our imagination, and instead taste of the true life – the Eitz HaChaim, the source of true life.

It is not only a person who is immersed in physical interests who is living in imagination. Even a person learning Torah and doing mitzvos, who is not entrenched in physical pursuit, can also be living in imagination. We see from this from the fact that we have all kinds of dreams at night.

When we reveal the inner essence of our heart, we will then understand what the true meaning of life is, and then we will be able to truly have d’veykus with the Creator.

Two Kinds of Joy

Rabbi Dessler – Strive for Truth 6 – Re’ei

King Shelomo prayed: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; give me my allotted bread. If I am satisfied, I might deny and say ‘Who is God?’ If I am poor, I might steal and take the name of my God [in vain].”

Troubles arouse a person and turn him towards God. If all his needs are satisfied, he may imagine that he can do without God, and from that to denial is not very far. It is clear that human beings have a strong tendency to deny God. If a person whose needs have been satisfied for the moment has this tendency, how much more so a rich man who thinks his prosperity is guaranteed far into the future.

Because this danger was so clear to him, Shelomo HaMelech prayed that he would not have riches nor even the complete satisfaction of his physical needs, but only the essential minimum: “my allotted bread.” The implication is that he would have much preferred to be poor and lack even essentials, were it not that poverty has its own dangers. He might be tempted to steal and lie, and so eventually also come to deny God by taking a false oath.

SUKKA OF PEACE
“You shall make a festival of Sukkot…when you gather your harvest…”2 Everyone is happy when the harvest is in and they feel that their livelihood for the year is assured. The danger of denying God is self-evident. To obviate this danger, the Torah commands us to “dwell in sukkot for seven days.”‘ This is to teach us that safety is not in material things, but in our closeness to God. Our shelter is not the roof, but God’s sukka of peace. We realize that true satisfaction comes only from banishing material ambitions from our hearts and filling our lives with avodat Hashem.4

REJOICING IN THE FESTIVAL
Instead of rejoicing in the harvest, the Torah tells us to “rejoice in your festival.”‘ This means spiritual joy, as another verse says, “You shall rejoice before God, your God.” The Talmud learns from this verse—”and you shall rejoice in your festival”—that one is not allowed to celebrate a marriage during a festival: “Rejoice in your festival and not in your wife.”‘ It is all the more obvious that our joy should not be in our harvest or in our sense of physical security. The joy of the festival is spiritual joy. It is joy in the heartfelt fulfillment that comes from transcending material desires and putting in their place the service of Hashem.

But how is it possible to change one’s joy from joy in the material to joy in the spiritual? There is only one way in which to do this, which we shall now explain.

THE FIELD OF THE HEART
My rebbe told me this in the name of the Vilna Gaon, of blessed memory. It is impossible to sow a field unless it has first been plowed. Similarly, the blockage in our heart—timtum ha-lev prevents spiritual feelings from penetrating it. The hard peel surrounding the heart must first be pierced. Only then can spiritual insights be sown, and only then can fruit be expected to grow, in theform of changed attitudes.

How can the hard soil of the heart be plowed? With strong emotional upheaval. This can come from sudden disaster or from great joy. When a person is in a state of great excitement, for whatever reason, his heart opens. A person can now impress on it whatever he likes. He can say to himself: Now is my chance! The hard casing of my heart has been broken open. Quick! I must sow in it what I want.

The origin of the great joy may have been nothing more than a good harvest. But now that the heart is excited and aroused, its habitual blockage is removed. This provides the opportunity to show one’s heart that the joy of spiritual success far exceeds the joy of material success. Here is the chance to transform one’s joy into another, higher level of joy.

The water-drawing ceremony which took place during the nights of the Sukkot festival was one of the highlights of the service in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. “One who has never seen the water-drawing ceremony in the Holy Temple has never seen joy in his life.”8 This ceremony and the water libation—nissuch ha-mayim—that followed it were in essence a prayer for rain for the coming year. But our Rabbis transformed it into a celebration of the spirit. “Why is it called ‘the joy of the water-drawing’? Because from it they used to draw the holy spirit.”‘ Prophets used to draw their inspiration from this dramatic and joy-inspiring ceremony.”‘

So we see what the Torah meant by “Make a festival…when you gather…”” Use the physical joy of gathering the harvest as a springboard to reach spiritual joy. Then your joy will be complete. You will experience the supreme happiness of transforming the lower into the higher — the darkness of denial into the great light of faith in God.

HASSIDIC CUSTOMS
With this in mind, we can now understand the custom prevalent among Hassidim to arousc joy and good humor through external means, such as the judicious use of liquor. They use joyous occasions to speak words of Torah and serving Hashem. Whoever instituted this obviously understood the secret of opening the heart and sowing seeds of Torah and chessed — as we discussed above.

It is wonderful to see how all Jewish customs, in every section of Jewry, have the same goal—to further Torah and deepen our avodat Hasbem.

notes
1 Mishlei 30:8-9.
2 Devarim 16:13.
3 Vayikra 23:42.
4 See parasbat Shoftim, end.
5 Devarim 16:14.
6 Vayikra 23:40.
7 Mo`ed Ratan 8b.
8 Sukka 51a.
9 Bereshit Rabba 70:8.
10 Yerushalmi Sukka 5:1.
11 See note 2, above.

What Does G-d Want From Us?

There is a verse in this week’s Parsha, that the Mesillas Yesharim, The Path of the Just, says is the basis of our Avodas Hashem, our service of Hashem.

As we probably know, the Mesillas Yesharim, was written by R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzato, also known as “the Ramchal”, and is one of the two most studied character development books of all time (the other being the Duties of the Heart).

The reason why Mesillas Yesharim is so popular is because the Ramchal teaches us:
– What it means to serve Hashem (Ramchal’s Introduction).
– Why we should devote our entire lives to serving Hashem (Chapter 1 – Man’s Mission in the World).
– How to methodologically improve our service of Hashem (Chapters 2 through 26)

The verse that the Ramchal says is the basis of our Service of Hashem, is Deutoronomy 10:12 in Parshas Eikev:
“And now, Israel, what does Hashem, your God, ask of you?
– Only to fear (be in awe of) Hashem, your God,
– to go in all His ways,
– and to love Him,
– and to serve Hashem, your God, with all your heart and all your soul,
– to observe the commandments of Hashem and His decrees, which I command you today, for your benefit. “

The Ramchal continues and says:
“Here, has been included all the components of complete Divine service that are pleasing to Hashem, blessed be He and they are: fear (awe) of Hashem, walking in His ways, love, wholeheartedness, and observance of all the commandments.

The Ramchal then writes a paragraph on each of these five components, which can be summarized as follows:
1) fear (awe) of Hashem – like you would fear (be in awe of) a great and awesome king,
2) walking in His ways – refining our character traits, leading to strengthening of Torah and improved friendships,
3) love – ingraining in our hearts a love of Hashem, and being inspired to please Him, like we would want to please our parents,
4) wholeheartedness – doing mitzvos with pure motives, focused on serving Hashem, not by rote, with heartfelt devotion,
5) and observance of all the mitzvos – observing the entire body of mitzvos, with all their fine points and conditions.

The Ramchal then says, “I have found that our Sages of blessed memory have categorized these elements in a different, more detailed formulation, in which they are arranged according to the order necessary for their proper acquisition.”

This is based on the Beraisa by Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair in the Gemora which says that Torah leads to Watchfulness, Zeal, Cleanliness, Separation, Purity, Saintliness, Humility, Fear of Sin, Holiness, Divine Inspiration, Revival of the Dead. The Mesillas Yesharim is based on this Beraisa.

I always wondered about the order of pasuk and why the Ramchal is so focused on it as the basis for Divine service, while the Gemora and the commentators are focused mainly on the fear (awe) part of the pasuk. I believe that the Ramchal sees that the Pasuk is in the reverse order of the Beraisa, with
5) observance of all the mitzvos – take us from the beginning through Cleanliness
4) wholeheartedness – takes us through Purity
3) love – takes us through Saintliness
2) walking in His ways – takes us through Humility
1) fear (awe) of God – takes us through Fear of Sin.

Perhaps this is why the Ramchal is all over this pasuk, because it has the same structure as the Beraisa delineating the components and levels of Divine Service.

This is a fantastic opportunity to review the introduction of Mesillas Yesharim, which can be found here.

Shmira Bashavua – Shmiras HaLashon in the Weekly Parsha

I am excited to share with the Beyond BT community the first fruits of a sefer that I have been working on for several years– Shmira Bashavua. Shmira Bashavua is a parsha sefer which gleans Shmiras HaLashon related halacha and hashkafa from each parsha and provides practical tools for taking each idea into the week.

I strongly believe that Shmira Bashavua has the potential to be a Shabbos table staple and play a part in creating stronger Shmiras HaLashon within our families and communities.

The first volume of Shmira Bashavua (Sefer Vayikra) is scheduled to be published and in stores in advance of Parshas Vayikra.

You can download the Introduction to the Sefer, the Introduction to Sefer Vayikra and 5 or 6 selections from Parshas Vayikra.
https://beyondbt.com/docs/ShmiraBashuvaVayikraSample.pdf

I am currently looking for sponsors for the sefer. This is an opportunity to play an important role in spreading awareness and learning of Shmiras HaLashon. Here is the link to the form which contains details about these dedication opportunities.
https://forms.gle/FcYJVdP2tQdVsyon7
I look forward to your feedback and I deeply appreciate your support.

David

Tisha B’Av Prep – Preserving Our Prayer Portal and Lessons from Bar Kamtza’s Pain

It’s not often that Bar Kamtza is portrayed as the good guy, but in this shiur by Rabbi Herschel Welcher, titled “Lessons from the Pain of Bar Kamtza“, we take a look at the story from Bar Kamtza’s perspective and see the lessons we can learn and apply today. Please download the shiur here.

In a shiur titled, “The Morning after the Mourning“, Rabbi Moshe Schwerd explains how we were responsible for closing the Prayer Portal of the Beis HaMikdash and how we’re unfortunately repeating the lesson with our distracted approach to prayer today. Please download the shiur here.

Unity, Diversity, the 9th of Av

During the summer months we tragically have to contend with the period of the Three Weeks and ט באב, the Ninth of Av. Our mourning centers around the physical and spiritual destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem and of Jewish national life in the Land of Israel. Indeed, we have many customs that mark this throughout the year. It is our custom in the beit midrash to learn about those customs on the afternoon of the Tisha B’av, the Ninth of Av. An additional important focus of our thoughts at this time is, ‘what is the remedy?’

To consider a cure, we must consider the root cause of a malady. The g’mara (יומא ט) discusses why our holy places were destroyed, comparing Shiloh and the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. Our particular concern is the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, since this is the beginning of the exile that we yet struggle with and suffer from today, thousands of years later. Our g’mara tells us, “the second Temple period was a time of occupation with Torah and the commandments, and acts of kindness.

Why was it destroyed? Because of unwarranted enmity.” How are we to understand this?

How is it possible that large numbers of people are occupied with Hashem’s holy Torah, and acts of kindness; and are concurrently characterized by שנאת חינם – unexcused enmity?

This should scare us to the core! Isn’t this the very opposite of what we believe and expect of a Torah society? The very idea, the very possibility that Jews could be engaged in Torah study, in careful observance of the commandments, in acts of חסד/kindness to each other – and still hate each other at the same time? Yet this is precisely what our sages tell us characterized that period, and what we must still address and remedy.

It may be that the Netziv answered our perplexity in a famous responsum in Meshiv Davar (משיב דבר א סימן מד). A prominent Torah journal had published an editorial advocating the complete separation of observant Jews from other Jews in Europe. The Netziv wrote a lengthy response decrying this idea; analyzing and rejecting it as “like swords to the body and existence of the nation.” There the Netziv writes that during the second Temple period our nation was exiled and the Temple destroyed and the land cut off due to the ongoing public struggle between the P’rushim and the Tzadukim (Pharisees and Sadducees). This, he wrote, also brought about unjustified bloodshed because of the unwarranted enmity. When a Parush would see someone act leniently in a matter of Torah, he would judge him to be a Tzaduki (and therefore the enemy), even when this was simply an average Jew who happened to do wrong. But unwarranted enmity would make him judge this person to be an enemy in the great religious and social struggle, and violence would ensue.

The Netziv continues and says that such could certainly occur today, that one of the observant Jews would perceive that another Jew doesn’t behave the same as he in serving God and would judge him to therefore be a heretic and separate from him and they would end up persecuting each other.

We could, indeed, be occupied with Torah and acts of kindness; but still look down or askance at those very people we are helping or learning or davening with. The key to the cure is to first realize and deeply appreciate that the Torah does not require uniformity of us.

Yes, we all have to keep Shabbat and kashrut and give tzedakah. Yes, we all have to work to create individual and societal lives expressive of God’s will as revealed in His Torah. Yet time and again the Torah teaches us how that comes about through elements of diversity and individuality. Not free-for-all, make-it-up-as-we-go-along diversity; but a real diversity within Torah and tradition that comes about because of personality, character, style, and unique insights that result from real investment in Torah.

Consider that the holy menorah, the symbol and channel of Divine wisdom, had seven branches. Not one. Even though all the six peripheral lamps turned towards the center, they remained distinct. Each lamp had to burn on its own. Rav Avigdor Nevenzahl points out how this is a model for how each student eventually has to stand on his own, continuing but independent of what his rav has imparted to him.

Consider that even though we received one Torah as one people at Sinai (‘like one person of one heart’, Rashi to Ex. 19:2); the Torah rigorously preserves the identities (and therefore cultures) of the 12 tribes. Each tribe had its own flag and its own camp in the wilderness – though all centered around the mishkan/Tabernacle. In the Land of Israel each tribe retained its own territory, and through that some of its own customs and halachic behaviors. To create the Torah’s vision of a Torah society, we must maintain individual and distinct contributions that then work together synergistically. But we must realize and believe that the differences indeed lead to synergy. Only then will we not only tolerate differences; but we will value them and make good use of them.

Even with all our common obligations within the Torah, we must each find the particular path and style upon which we will make our particular contribution. What’s more, we must support each other and encourage each other to do so; and to rise ever higher in the heights of Torah. Then, Hashem will bless us to finally remedy the שנאת חינם, the unnecessary enmity which brought about our mourning and exile. Then we will be blessed to create a society in Israel that will be a blessing for all the nations.

×›×™ ביתי בית תפלה יקרא לכל העמים – ‘for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’ (ישעיה נו:×–/Isaiah 56:7).

It begins with us.

Originally posted August, 2011

The Three Weeks – Building The World

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Drashos on the Three Weeks and Tisha B’Ave

Binah/Binyan – The Power To ‘Build’ Through Our Understandings

ומלמד לאנוש בינה Hashem teaches “binah”, intuition, to us.

The word binah is related to the word binyan, to build. Torah scholars are called “builders” – they are blessed with the power of binah. When a person exerts himself in learning Torah, he is really building the world.

How can we reveal our power of binah to build the world – and to be more specific, to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash?

The Depth Behind ‘Sinas Chinam’ (Baseless Hatred): A Viewpoint of Disparity

Chazal tell us that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam (baseless hatred)6. What is the root of sinas chinam? From where does this negative emotion come from?

Simply, it comes from being egotistical. When a person only cares about himself, he couldn’t care less about others, so he will hate others for no reason.

But the deeper understanding is as follows.

When we build a structure, a brick is placed on top of another. Hashem created many details in Creation; we are all like many bricks that need to get added together, and form the complete structure of Creation. All details in Creation are many parts of one whole which will ultimately have to come together.

When we see the world – inanimate objects, as well as people – from a superficial perspective, we do not see how all these connect. But it is this superficial perspective which actually brought about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash!

We are supposed to see how all the details in Creation are really meant to come together and form a structure. Therefore, the many details going on in Creation are not just a bunch of random details. They are many parts of one whole, which need to come together in a structure. The purpose of everything is always one and the same – to come together, to become unified, and form one structure.

Applying this to our own development, when a person is young, he doesn’t connect outward beyond himself. When he gets a little older, he begins to realize that there is a Creator, and he wants to connect with the Creator, but he does not necessarily see connection with others as part of his connection with the Creator. If a person gets a little wiser, he realizes that his connection with the Creator really depends on how he connects with others.

When a person views Creation through a lens of disparity, this was the perspective which enabled destruction to come to the world. This is the depth behind sinas chinam.

Sinas Chinam – To Be Inwardly Apart From Other Jews

Even more so, sinas chinam means “I can live on my own; I don’t need other Jews in order to exist.”

What about the mitzvah to do chessed? The person rationalizes, “Chessed is like any other mitzvah that is outside of myself, like shaking a lulav. I don’t need chessed to exist.” When a person views Creation with disparity like this, that is sinas chinam – this perspective is what destroyed the Beis HaMikdash.

What was the Beis HaMikdash? It was the place that contained the Shechinah. But what is the Shechinah about? It is about Hashem’s Presence dwelling in Klal Yisrael, when we are in union. When we are not unified and we are instead apart from each other in our hearts, there is no point of having the Shechinah.

“The king is called the heart of the nation”; Hashem called is our “heart”. But if our hearts are full of disparity towards each other, and we each feel like we can survive without other Jews, then our damaged heart will not allow Hashem to be the heart of the nation, and thus the Shechinah will not dwell among us.

Sinas chinam has two layers to it. The outer layer of it is to show signs of hatred, simply speaking. The essence of sinas chinam, though, is that a person feels himself apart from other Jews, that he feels fine without other Jews, that he feels like he can live without other Jews. Sinas chinam, at its core, is to have a perspective of disparity towards Creation, a lack of awareness that Creation is supposed to become unified.

Moving In The Opposite Direction of Sinas Chinam

How do we go in the opposite direction, then, and get ahavas chinam (‘baseless love’)? We know that we have a mitzvah to love other Jews like ourselves but, how do we actually get it?

Simply speaking, we need to get rid of sinas chinam and reveal our deep ahavah for other Jews that we have really deep down. True, but there is more to it.

Ahavas chinam is when we realize, “I cannot exist without another Jew’s existence, for we are all part and parcel with one another.” There is no individual Jew who can live without another Jew’s existence; when we internalize this understanding, we reveal ahavas chinam. Thus, hatred can only exist when a Jew thinks he can exist fine without another Jew.

This perspective of ahavas chinam is the power that can rebuild the Beis HaMikdash, as well as the world as a whole.

Learning Torah To Build The World

As an example, when a person learns Torah, does he realize he is building the world? Or is he learning it all for himself…?

Learning Torah is what unifies the details of the world together. When a person learns Torah, he must be aware that his learning causes unity in Creation, for Torah is the root of all souls. But if a person is learning Torah and he has no love for other Jews, he’s learning Torah all for himself, and such Torah does not build the world.

Uprooting Hatred, and Getting To The Root of Love

The Rambam describes our middos as “daas”. The essence of all our middos and emotions is daas. The depth of ahavas chinam, and removing sinas chinam, is thus not by working with our emotions. Our emotions of love or hatred can only be the result of what perspective we have deep down. If we reveal daas – and we come to actually sense it – then we can reveal love.

We know that doing things for other people can bring love, for “the heart is pulled after the actions”, but at the same time we must realize that we need daas. When we do actions for others, we need to reveal daas with it – to realize that we must unify with others.

To uproot sinas chinam, and to develop ahavas chinam, we need to do good actions for others and help others, but along with this, we also need to reveal our daas – to realize that we need to unify with others. It is a perspective which we need to gain on how we view others. This is the way to access the real emotion of love for other Jews. Destruction comes when we are missing this perspective.

Love For Other Is Not A Novelty

What does it mean to love? It is not simply to shower love upon others. Love is when we reach our daas, when we connect with others, by realizing that all of Creation needs to become unified.

When a person gets married, he believes this is his bashert (soul-mate). He believes the words of Chazal that finding a wife is like finding his lost object. He does not view the love towards his wife as something new; he realizes that he is revealing a reality which is already there, for Chazal say that husband and wife were already destined to be bound together in love.

In the same way, we should view other Jews in Creation – our love for other Jews must not be some novel concept to us. When you meet another Jew, don’t think to yourself that Ahavas Yisrael is some new concept that you have to work on. Rather, it is the reality, and you need to align your way of thinking with that reality. This is because we are all one at our root.

The only reason why we don’t feel that unity is because we are currently living in a world of darkness, which blurs us from seeing the true reality. Therefore, we feel apart from each other, but it’s only because we are not in touch with reality.

What We Cry About on Tisha B’Av

We cry on Tisha B’Av over the ruins of Jerusalem, which lies in disgrace. We are living in a time of hester panim (concealment of Hashem’s revelation). But even more than so, we should cry about an even more painful situation: there are many of our fellow Jews today who are going through all sorts of pain, suffering, and predicament. In our times we live in, our fellow Jews today have both physical suffering as well as suffering of the soul.

We cannot really cry over the destruction of Jerusalem if we do not feel unity with other Jews. Why we do we cry on Tisha B’Av? Is it because we can’t bring our own Korbonos for ourselves? Or are we crying because we don’t have the Korbonos that atone for the entire congregation…? Which of these aspects means more to you…?

In Conclusion

“Whoever mourns Jerusalem, will merit to its rebuilding.” Even if we do not merit the actual rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, we can each have a part in its rebuilding, when we build the world through the deeper understanding that comes from our “daas”, towards our relationship with the other Jewish souls.

May we all merit to unify with other Jews, as one piece, and come together into one structure, in which “Hashem will be One, and His Name will be one”.

We’re All Broken Vessels – The 17th of Tammuz

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller Gottlieb

Internalized Confusion Leads to Tragedy

The first major tragedy in history was when Adam ate the fruit and internalized confusion. Prior to that sin, confusion was external, but after the sin the confusion was internalized. Man went from an objective reality of true and false to an often confused subjective reality of good and evil.

Much of the negativity in the world is due to this confusion, where collective mankind brings upon itself tragedies such as hunger, poverty and war. This is the negative side of free choice and these tragedies result from our confusion. If we had G-d awareness, we would be able to get past these tragedies. If we had a strong sense of G-d’s presence, confused negative traits like selfishness, violence, cruelty and abusiveness would not exist.

With Spiritual Diminishment, We Make G-d Small, Instead of Making Ourselves Big

After the first sin, G-d withdrew His presence from the world, but it was restored by people such as Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov until a full awareness of G-d was acheived at Sinai. So how did the people worship the golden calf shortly thereafter?

Nobody thought the golden calf was the creator of the world. Nobody creates an idol in the morning and thinks that it created him in the afternoon. The golden calf was representative of the powers of nature and strength, it was a representation of G-d. What is so bad about this? What’s so bad about idol worship is that we were created to elevate ourselves. Idol worship brings G-d down to man instead of man rising up to G-d. When we try to make G-d small, we fail as humans, we stop moving upwards. This lack of spiritual ambition was the second great tragedy.

Many people today are not intellectually confused, they are spiritually lost. They don’t see the value of becoming “big”. When we build golden calves we weaken spiritual ambition and cause spiritual diminishment.

We Live in a World Where Spirit is Gone and What is Left is Stone

When Moshe came down from Sinai on the 17th of Tammuz and saw the Golden Calf, he smashed the tablets. The Midrash says the tablets were very huge and the letters of the tablets carried the weight of the stone, the spirit carried the body. When he saw the golden calf, the spirit was gone and all that was left was stone, so the tablets fell under their own weight and were smashed.

Today we live in a world of rampant materialism and foreign lifestyles. It is a world where spirit is gone and what is left is stone. This is one reason why we fast today.

We’re Fine with using Animals for Food and Clothing, But not for Spiritual Purposes

The next significant event is that the sacrifices were stopped before the destruction of the temple. Even during the siege of Yerushalayim, the Jews would offer sacrifices. They would send down money over the wall and an animal would be sent up. One day they sent down money and a pig was sent up. It was at that point that the sacrifices stopped.

Today, many of us have trouble with sacrifices both emotionally and intellectually. But most of us have no problem using animals for food or for leather. We are fine with exploiting animals for our physical purposes, but if we talk about using an animal for spiritual means it becomes barbaric and ridiculous. This is because we have stone and we don’t have spirit, we can relate to eating, but we can’t relate to worship.

Animal sacrifice is a way of experientially relating to G-d. The person offering the sacrifice had to put their hand on the animal, saying I am mortal, I came from you and I will return to you. It was an extremely powerful way of relating to G-d. The reason we’re concerned about the day the sacrifices stopped is because of what it says about it. The fact that the temple could be destroyed is an example of spirit turning to stone and the animal sacrifices being another symptom.

The Temple Was our House for Spiritual Self-Expression

The other tragedies on this day were the Torah was burned, an idol was brought into the temple and the walls of Yerushalayim were breached, leading to the destruction on the 9th of Av. When we talk about losing the Temple, it’s hard to grasp what that means. The temple was called a mountain by Avraham, a field by Yitzchak and a house by Yaakov. A house is a place where you can personally express yourself. For a Jew, personal self-expression means putting back spirit where there is only stone. The Beis Hamikdash was a place where spiritual experience was a part of physical experience, it wasn’t two different worlds like it is today.

We can’t relate to what we are missing in the temple experience, because we have never met anybody who met anybody who met anybody who saw the Jewish people when our major identity was spirit and not stone. We don’t know who we are anymore.

The 17th of Tammuz is Meant to Be a Heavy Day of Introspection

What does this have to do with us personally? When we think about what gives our life joy it comes down to two things, triumph and love. If we think about our happiest moment, there is no doubt there is triumph and love. Triumph and love only happen when spirit is greater than stone. Our world is very banal and grey and the only thing that allows us to rise above this physical existence is the moments of triumph and achievement that are truly spiritual that come to us through the mitzvos.

The 17th of Tammuz is a personal day when we have to do an accounting of our soul, a cheshbon nefesh. We have to figure where we are, where we want to be, where we want to be next year. What do we want people to say about us in the end, how would we want today to look if it was our last day? It’s a heavy day, it’s meant to be heavy.

In addition to looking at this personally, we have an obligation to look at this collectively. Collectively, we are not in such great shape, especially in regard to events in the Middle East. We are all collectively responsible for the state we are in.

G-d Wants to Give, But Do We Want to Receive

Today we have to say, can we be the person we talk about every day in the Shema? Can we love G-d with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our possessions? Do we live up to the ideal of spirit over rock. G-d has promised us that when we live up to our potential, He will give us the land and He will give us peace. When we fail, we are expelled. This is what we say in the Shema, if we serve Hashem with our heart and our soul we will get blessings. But be careful that your heart is not seduced. We can’t let our emotions lead us to choosing the physical over the spiritual. This will lead us to worshipping and serving other G-ds, our own private golden calves. We all know at least one person who is enslaved to their ego, or their income or their career. This is personal enslavement. When we reach that state of enslavement, G-d will expel us from the land, because He cares for us. G-d on his side wants to give, but do we want to receive?

Fasting has two purposes to move us away from the physical and to recognize our fraility. We move away from the physical pleasure, specifically eating which is a big part of our life. As it gets late in the day, many of us will ask, when is the fast over. We will be concerned about the phyisical. This need for the physical reminds us that we are frail and we are physical. Part of raising the spiritual over the physical is being forgiving of each other. The more we are aware of our own fraility, the easier it is to remember that every person we encounter is a member of the brotherhood of the frail. Everybody else faces the physical and gratification struggles that we do. We need to forgive them like we want G-d to forgive us.

We’re All Broken Vessels

In the time of the sacrifices in Shilo, after pottery vessels were used for libations, they had to be broken within sight of the alter. After coming in to possession of some of these pottery shards, Rebbetzin Heller realized that these shards were pieces of someone else’s Teshuva. She sent some of these shards to a friend in the States who had suffered some great losses. She asked her what she thought about the shards. Her friend told her, “We’re all broken vessels”.

Once we see everybody as a broken vessel, we can forgive them, we can love them, we can let what we see of their spirit overcome what we see of their stone. This is the key that will help us overcome the destruction that we find ourselves in now. This is the way the Third Temple will be built.


First Posted on July 3rd, 2007
Based on a lecture By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller which can be found here.

Rabbi Mayer Schiller – The Biggest Challenges Facing Baalei Teshuva

Rabbi Mayer Schiller is stopping teaching, so we are paying tribute to his wonderful career by reposting this great piece that he wrote for Beyond BT when we first started in December 2005.

Part 1 — Challenges

I have been asked to write on the “biggest challenges facing baalei teshuva.” Of course, every Jew in his life’s pursuit of Hashem and His Torah encounters challenges. However, the challenges we face and how we respond to them is forever colored by who we are and where we come from. Thus, much of what follows may be relevant to all Jews but it strikes me that these challenges are of particular concern to baalei teshuva.

The tikkun that each individual’s life is to achieve requires a realistic assessment of the nisyonos that are specific to one’s place in life, human/Jewish history and cultural context.

Also, any discussion of this issue must be colored by much subjectivity. We can, in the end, only speak with authority about our own “challenges.” Part of us is always alone in the world. Yet, life is also a shared experience. Hopefully some of what I – and others on this site – have to say may resonate in the heart of another and together we may be worthy of giving and receiving a bit of chizuk as we seek to ascend the har Hashem.

In all honesty, I have encountered so many challenges, born of the baal teshuva experience, that one almost doesn’t know where to begin. Plus, the challenges change, some deepen, while others become weaker over the years, as one spends more time in the Orthodox community.

At the beginning, I think a baal teshuva is haunted by a certain loneliness in, and sense of alienation from his new environment. Everyone else practices Judaism as a matter of second nature. To baalei teshuva, at first, everything done, learned and experienced is new, startling and , at times confusing. Everything is a big deal. Everyone else seems to know what is a big deal and what isn’t.

As part of this problem there is the, at times, blasé attitude of FFBers who seem less than enthused about things that the BT has been taught are of the utmost importance. This too can be most disconcerting.

Before long, one realizes that Orthodoxy is not a monolith and that there are many different models of how to live in the Torah world. Should the baal teshuva select a significant sage to tell him where to go or, should he seek a derech that fits his own soul’s needs as he perceives/experiences them?

Perhaps, the most daunting challenge faced is the ever growing awareness that not all Orthodox Jews are paragons of empathy or kindness or patience or even honesty; or even very much engaged in proper study and prayer. Further, to some of them, their religion is simply a rote practice, little cherished and almost no source of inspiration to them. The personal encounters with all the above can give many a baal teshuva moments of pain and doubt. To a degree that pain will never pass. We all entered Yiddishkeit in search of a good, more meaningful and certainly more spiritual, moral and ethical life. The grim knowledge that this is often far from the reality hits baalei teshuva very hard.

Indeed, the pain for the BT intensifies when he later confronts the fact that his children are FFBs and often far less passionate about the same things that inspired him.

Often the BT learns by experience that it is even those Torah teachers that may have once seemed so perfect to him that are, in reality, flawed human beings as well.

For the thoughtful BT the process of engaging with Torah and halacha may at times prove disquieting. Laws and ideas concerning non – Jews, women, the disabled, slaves and the like are apt to be unsettling and the proposed answers often apologetic and/or seemingly inadequate.

Finally, there is the general stance of Orthodoxy in relation to non – Orthodox (or haredi towards Modern Orthodox and, more surprisingly, Modern Orthodox to haredi) society both in Israel and America as self absorbed, insular tribes with little interest in or responsibility towards “outside” groups /individuals, be it of a material or spiritual nature. This attitude inevitably costs many BTs some sleepless nights.

All or some of the above are among the challenges BTs face. As a BT member of the Beth Shraga Beis Medrash said to me in the summer of 1968, “In the end we are different. It is not just that we can’t go home for Shabbos. We are built differently and always will stay that way.”

This is both a blessing and a curse. Just as the BT will often carry some alienation and doubt throughout life, he will also experience Torah in powerful, wondrous, insightful and joyous ways that might be inaccessible to most FFBs.

In my next entry I hope to discuss the possible means (thoughts, seforim, leaders, books, communities and the like) that will help a BT through the moments of darkness just outlined.

For the interim, the essential issue is to retain the fervor and devotion of one’s initial experiences in Torah while living in the real world with its ambiguities. complexities, paradoxes and disappointments. This is the calling of the mature, thoughtful BT.

May we all be worthy of success and joy in our service of the Ribbono shel Olam.

Rabbi Mayer Schiller

Originally posted on December 9th, 2005.

Telling My Story

When people meet me, and find out a bit of my background – being from Alabama, not growing up in an Orthodox home – they often ask me to tell “my story.” I used to have no problem with this, but lately, the request for my story has started to bother me.

I don’t hide my background; I don’t pretend to be “FFB” (though I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I could “pass” easily). I’m very upfront with my background and the fact that my family is not observant. So why does it bother me to be asked about my story?

I think it’s because I’ve moved beyond my story. I’ve been shomer shabbos for almost nine years now, the majority of my independent life. My “story” occurred a long time ago. I just don’t feel like those events define who I am anymore, nor even my frumkeit.

Many people who become observant go off to a certain seminary or yeshiva and come to define themselves within the hashkafa of that particular place. I didn’t do that – I worked it out for myself, through many permutations until I made it my own. I imagine that it will still change somewhat throughout my life, but I don’t define myself by the organization that mikareved me, so I’m always a little uncomfortable telling people how I got “into” Orthodoxy.

But beyond having people try to define me by the specific organization that I don’t align myself with (which I don’t blame anyone for, it’s human nature to want to put people in boxes in order to understand them better), I guess I want to move on with my life, to just be a normal Jew who observes or doesn’t observe particular facets of Judaism. It’s not about blending – believe me, it’s difficult to blend when you are from Alabama, living in the NY area – but it’s about wanting people to look at me for WHO I am NOW, rather than where I came from.

Yes, our current lives are certainly affected by our upbringing and our experiences throughout life, but because the events that sparked my interest in becoming more observant happened so long ago, I’m not that person anymore. I’ve moved beyond it, just like I’ve moved beyond the person I was in junior high school.

So now when people ask me my story, I kinda cringe and give them as few details as possible. Not because I’m embarrassed about it or my past, because I’m not. But because I just have trouble remembering who that person was.

Originally Posted in December 2006

The Power of the Spoken Word

Parshas Shelach
“Send forth men, if you please, and let them spy out the land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel” — Bamidbar 13:2

Timeline of the miraglim

The parsha of Shelach opens up with the story of the miraglim. Rashi notes that the previous parsha ended with the story of Miriam getting tzaras and being sent out of the camp because she spoke loshon harah about Moshe. Since this parsha begins with the miraglim, it implies that these two events are connected. But Rashi is bothered by the fact that they did not happen in chronological proximity. The events of the Korach rebellion were sandwiched in between.

Rashi explains that the Torah took these two events and juxtaposed them to teach us a lesson: Had the miraglim not been so wicked, they would have learned from what happened to Miriam, and that would have prevented them from saying their negative report about the land. However, says Rashi, “These wicked people saw what happened and didn’t learn from it.”

The miraglim’s sin wasn’t loshon harah

The problem with this Rashi is that the miraglim’s sin had nothing to do with loshon harah; it emanated from a lack of trust in HASHEM. When they entered the land, they saw giants occupying fortified cities. They witnessed people dying left, right, and center. In their minds, if the Jewish nation attempted to conquer this land, they would be slaughtered wholesale – man, woman, and child.

Clearly, they were lacking in bitachon. Their faith in HASHEM was deficient. But they weren’t guilty of speaking loshon harah. First off, there is no prohibition against speaking loshon harah about land. Land is inanimate. We are forbidden from derogatory speech about people – not rocks.

Of even greater significance, once the miragalim made their mistake and concluded that HASHEM wasn’t powerful enough to bring us into the land, what they then spoke wasn’t loshon harah at all. In their calculation, they were saving the Jewish people from utter destruction, in which case it wasn’t forbidden speech; it was a mitzvah.

Why does the Torah forbid loshon harah?

The answer to this question stems from understanding why the Torah forbids loshon harah. The Rambam defines loshon harah as words that hurt, words that damage. Whether they cause a person embarrassment, loss of income, or sully his reputation, the very definition of loshon harah is words that cause harm. That is the reason the Torah forbids us to speak it – not because the Torah is so strict, but because words can have such a harmful effect.

To appreciate the damage that words can cause, imagine that I discover a cloak of invisibility. When I put this cape on, I can walk around freely without anyone seeing me. Imagine for a moment that after I find this cloak, I decide to have some fun. As I walk around the bais medrash, I take a sefer from one fellow and turn it upside down. Oh, his reaction when he sees it! Then I walk over to another fellow and close his Gemara. “Hey! What happened?” Next, I see a pair of charvusahs who are standing up for a moment. I walk over and put both of their Gemaras back on the shelf. “What–?”

I am having a jolly time!

After a while, I get a bit bolder. As someone is walking by, I leave my foot in the aisle. “Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!” he yells as he falls to the floor with a crash.

“This is fun,” I think to myself. And now I really start to get into it.

As a fellow walks by, I give him a punch in the stomach, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh!” The next guy, I smash in the back, “Agggggh!” And before you know it, guys are falling, getting smashed, and really getting hurt. The joke is no longer funny.

The Chofetz Chaim points out to us that the Torah reserves a curse for one who “hits his neighbor while hiding.” Chazal explain that this refers to someone who speaks loshon harah about his friend. Why am I so cavalier about what I say about him? Because he isn’t here. If he were standing right nearby, I would never say what I said. I say it only because he isn’t around. And in that sense, I am hitting him while hiding.

One of the reasons that we have difficulty controlling our speech is that we don’t see it as truly damaging. “What is the big deal if I tell an interesting story or two?” we say. While I would never dream of physically harming you, when it comes to ruining your reputation, damaging your business, or causing you harm in the way that people perceive you, then I am much less concerned. The Torah is teaching us that loshon harah is forbidden because of the power of the words and the damage they can cause. That is why they are forbidden.

The power of speech

The answer to this question on the miraglim seems to be that they should have seen what happened to Miriam and learned one lesson from it – the power of speech. They should have thought to themselves, “If such a tzadekes said something only slightly questionable about her brother whom she loved and revered and had to be sent out of the encampment for seven days to suffer embarrassment and public humiliation, what does that tell us about the impact of her words? Why did HASHEM act so harshly with her? It must be that what she did was far more egregious than we realized. It must be that her words – while merely speech – are a powerful force.”

Had the miraglim learned this lesson, they would have been far more careful in their speech. They would have thought many times about the consequences of their words, and that would have made them stop and think to themselves, “Before we bring back this report, are we sure? Are we a hundred percent certain that the Jewish people will die trying to conquer this land? Didn’t HASHEM bring us out of Mitzrayim? Didn’t HASHEM split the sea for us?”

Understanding the power of speech would have caused them to think about the consequences, and the results might well have been very different.

This concept has great relevance in our lives. Most of the damage that we do through speech isn’t malicious or with bad intent. We speak without thinking about the consequences, without contemplating the results. The Torah is teaching us the power of those words and how careful we have to be with what we say, not because the Torah is machmir when it comes to sins of speech, but because of the effect that speech has to help or to harm – because of the power of the spoken word.

For more on this topic please listen to Shmuz #139- The Power of Speech

The Shmuz – Marriage Seminar, a 12 part, comprehensive guide to a successful Marriage is available FREE of charge at www.TheShmuz.com. It is also on the Shmuz App available at the App store, or on Google play, or you may listen on Kol Halashon by calling 718- 906 6400, then options 1, 4, 3

What Not To Do At The Shabbat Table

The Broodo family of Dallas, Texas is now a well-established Orthodox family. They’re leaders and role models in their community. However one event during their first Shabbat experience almost derailed their teshuva journey. If it was not for the quick thinking of their hosts, their lives might have been very different today.

Ken and Beth Broodo were both raised in non-Orthodox Jewish homes. Ken is a lawyer, and several years ago a local Jewish organization, the Dallas Area Torah Association (DATA), the “community kollel,” sponsored a onetime lunch-n-learn at his law firm. It was delivered by a big-name visiting rabbi. Ken attended the event and enjoyed it, but didn’t feel particularly changed by it.

The event put the Broodos on DATA’s mailing list, and six months later they received an invitation to a DATA seminar on the upcoming holiday of Purim. The Broodos acknowledged that they knew very little about their Judaism and were very curious to learn more, so they decided to attend the event.

At the event, DATA rabbis spoke about various topics of Purim. One topic, the Hidden Mask of Nature, peaked their curiosity. The speaker, Rabbi Aryeh Feigenbaum, surprised them by pointing out that Hashem’s name is never mentioned in the Megillah but His hand is apparent throughout the whole story.
“Only when you look back do you see Hashem’s hand in it. Even when I say it now I get chills. I had never heard something of that depth about the Torah. It was an interesting phenomenon to me,” Ken said.

Ken was fascinated by the presentation and impressed by Rabbi Feigenbaum. Ken stayed afterwards to drill him with a slew of other questions.
Following the seminar, the Broodos began attending other classes sponsored by DATA. Ken began studying one-on-one with Rabbi Feigenbaum each week. He and his wife began seeing the truth and beauty of Judaism and began to realize that this was the spirituality they were craving in their lives. However they were somewhat intimidated by the observances and cautious about jumping into anything too religious.

Rabbi Feigenbaum had given them an open invitation to come to synagogue on a Friday night and to his home for Shabbat dinner. The Broodos were intrigued by the opportunity to learn more and to get closer to the Feigenbaums. They were uncertain about what the experience would be like, but were excited about the opportunity. One Friday night they decided to take him up on it.

As soon as they entered the Feigenbaum’s house, the Broodos were made comfortable by their hosts’ warm welcome, the beauty of their Shabbat table and the obvious love and holiness that filled the home.

“It was my first Shabbat dinner. I was very taken by the whole scene – the white tablecloth, the silver Kiddush cup, the candles, the singing and the Divrai Torah,” Ken said.

Ken especially loved Mrs. Feigenbaum’s homemade Challah. He had never eaten homemade challah before, and he found it to be absolutely delicious.
After finishing his first piece, Ken craved a second slice. The challah was sitting in a metal wire basket in the middle of the table, amidst all sorts of dishes and just on the other side of Mrs. Feigenbaum’s beautiful silver Shabbat candlesticks. Ken tried asking other people to pass him the bowl, but he couldn’t get anyone’s attention. So he decided to lean across the table and pick up the challah bowl himself.

The challah basket was lined with a napkin. As he carried the basket over the items on the table, Ken lifted it over the Shabbat candles, and within a second, it caught fire and turned into a giant bowl of flaming challah!

Ken dropped the burning basket onto the table and was about the douse it with his glass of water, when the rabbi leaned over the table and said ‘Stop!’ Rabbi Feigenbaum picked up the basket, carried to the front porch and let it burn out.

Ken felt extremely embarrassed that he had set the Feigenbaum’s challah on fire. He was ready to leave the meal at the first opportunity and never come back again. But when Ken and wife finally did put on their coats to leave, without missing a beat, Mrs. Feigenbaum responded in a way that immediately turned around his negative feelings.

“Stop worrying about it,” she said to Ken. “The next time you want toast for Shabbat, just let me know in advance!”

Mrs. Feigenbaum’s quip put a smile back on Ken’s face and helped the Broodos stay on their path of growth towards Jewish observance.

“When Mrs. Feigenbaum said that, we all laughed. I realized that no one judged me for making such a ridiculous mistake. Then I felt accepted” Ken explained. “When you’re not frum and you’re around people that are, the one thing you feel sure of is that you are being judged and not accepted.”

The burning challah episode was a critical point in the Broodos’ life. If their hosts had handled it in any other way, they might have never come back. Instead they returned for many more meals in the Feigenbaum home and grew extremely close to the family. They began attending additional classes and started coming to the community frequently for Shabbat.

The Broodos eventually moved into the neighborhood. Several years later, the new local Orthodox synagogue was founded in their living room, and they remain extremely involved to this day. They also now frequently host newcomers to the community. And for anyone who seems uncomfortable by being in an Orthodox home for Shabbat, Ken eases their worries by telling them the story about the Shabbat night that he set the rabbi’s challah on fire.

Michael Gros is the former Chief Operating Officer of the outreach organization The Atlanta Scholars Kollel. He writes from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. The Teshuva Journey column chronicles uplifting teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. Send comments to michaelgros@gmail.com.
Published in the Jewish Press in March, 2010

For Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan – A Translation of The Shelah’s Prayer for Parents on Behalf of their Children

The Shelah HaKadosh says that Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan is a special day to daven for your children’s spiritual and material needs. Here is an English Translation of the Shelah’s prayer he composed for this day. You can say the Hebrew version here. Here is the link to the prayer on Artscroll’s Website.

You have been the Eternal, our G-d, before You created the world, and You are the Eternal, our G-d, since you created the world, and You are G-d forever. You created Your world so that Your Divinity should become revealed thorugh Your holy Torah, as our Sages expounded on the first word therein, and for Israel, for they are Your people and Your inheritance whom You have chosen from among all nations. You have given them Your holy Torah and drawn them toward Your great Name. These two commandments are, “Be fruitful and Multiply” and “You shall teach them to your children.” Their purpose is that You did not create the world to be empty, but to be inhabited, and that it is for Your glory that You created, fashioned, and perfected it, so that we, our offspring, and all the descendants of your people Israel will know Your Name and study Your Torah.

Thus I entreat You, O Eternal, supreme King of kings. My eyes are fixed on You until You favor me, and hear my prayer, and provide me with sons and daughters who will also be fruitful and multiply, they and their descendents unto all generations, in order that they and we might all engage in the study of Your holy Torah, to learn and to teach, to observe and to do, and to fulfill with love all the words of Your Torah’s teaching. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah and attach our heart to Your commandments to love and revere Your Name.

Our Father, compassionate Father, grant us all a long and blessed life. Who is like You, compassionate Father, Who in compassion remembers His creatures for life! Remember us for eternal life, as our Forefather Avraham prayed, “If only Yishmael would live before You,” which the Sages interpreted as “…live in reverence of You.”

For this I have come to appeal and plead before You, that my offspring and their descendants be proper, and that You find no imperfection or disrepute in me or them forever. May they be people of peace, truth, goodness and integrity in the eyes of G-d and man. Help them to become practiced in Torah, accomplished in Scriptures, Mishnah, Talmud, Kabbalah, mitzvos, kindness, and good attributes, and to serve you with an inner love and reverence, not merely outwardly. Provide every one of them with their needs with honor, and give them health, honor and strength, good bearing and appearance, grace and loving-kindness. May love and brotherhood reign among them. Provide them with suitable marriage partners of scholarly and righteous parentage who will also be blessed with all that I have asked for my own descendants, since they will share the same fate.

You, the Eternal, know everything that is concealed, and to You all my heart’s secrets are revealed. For all my intention concerning the above is for the sake of Your great and holy Name and Torah. Therefore, answer me, O Eternal, answer me in the merit of our holy Forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov. For the sake of the fathers save the children, so the branches will be like the roots. For the sake of Your servant, David, who is the fourth part of Your Chariot, who sings with Divine inspiration.

A song of ascents. Fortunate is everyone who fears the Eternal, who walks in His ways. When you eat of the toil of your hands, you are fortunate, and good will be yours. Your wife is like a fruitful vine in the inner chambers of your home; your children are like olive shoots around your table. Look! So is blessed the man who fears the Eternal. May the Eternal bless you from Zion, and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life. May you see your children’s children, peace upon Israel.

Please, O Eternal, Who listens to prayer: May the following verse be fulfilled in me: “‘As for Me,’ says the Eternal, “this My covenant shall remain their very being; My spirit, which rests upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth nor from the mouths of your children, nor from the mouths of your children’s children,” said the Eternal, “from now to all Eternity.” May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing before You, Eternal, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Shavuos – Not Just Another Uber Driver

The Talmud relates [Pesachim 68b] that Rav Yosef would make a tremendous party on Shavuos. He would say, “If not for this special day (on which the Torah was given), look how many Yosefs there are in the market place”. Rabbi Frand explains “If not for the fact that I as a Jew have that precious gift of Torah, I would literally be ‘just another Joe'”.

On an Uber drive a few years ago, one of my kids got into a discussion with the driver about Judaism. The driver was amazed that a Torah Observant Jew can’t eat whatever they want, can’t wear whatever they want, can’t say whatever they want and can’t do whatever they want. The driver remarked that he does basically anything that he wants.

What the driver missed, and what we often take for granted, is that basic Torah observance, Shabbos, kashrus, etc, makes us great. Chazal teach that Hashem created man with a yetzer hara for desire, egocentricity and laziness and only by following the antidote of Torah and its commandments, can we rise above our base nature and become great human beings, with the possibility of connecting to people and connecting to Hashem with all our actions. When we heed the directives and follow the mitzvos of the Torah we unify the world and create a reality in which “Hashem will be One and His Name will be One”.

The Mesillas Yesharim is structured around the beraisa of R. Pinchas ben Yair which states:
“Torah leads to Watchfulness; Zeal; Cleanliness; Separation; Purity; Saintliness; Humility; Fear of Sin; Holiness; Divine Inspiration; the Revival of the Dead.” It starts with Torah and every step is infused with different aspects of the Torah: the warnings of the Torah, the mitzvos of the Torah, the learning of the Torah, the middos of the Torah and more.

Shavuos is the time for us to raise our commitment to Torah and to growing well beyond an Uber driver in the marketplace. Chag Someach!

Momentary Gains or Lasting Benefits

Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the Bilvavi and the Getting to Know Yourself (Soul, Emotions, Home) seforim has a free download available of Shavous Talks here.

We find three times where the Torah refers to counting: counting the years to Yovel (the jubilee), counting the days for purification of a zavah (VaYikra 15:19), and counting the omer. But a zavah does not make a beracha when she counts. Tosfot (Menachot 65b) explain that with the omer, we can be sure that it will lead to completion, but the zavah might not become pure at this time.

With the omer, then, we are able to begin (and continue) with an awareness of the end. If we do not anticipate an end, there is no blessing (and no requirement to count orally, which is why the zavah need not count orally). In life, too, we must always maintain an awareness of the end, as the Rosh writes that one must always be cognizant of death.

We might ask: Chazal have taught us (Avot 2:16) that “you are not expected to finish the task.” How, then, can one keep the end in mind if he will never reach the end?

If a person is ill, and there is no known remedy for his illness, that does not necessarily mean that he should despair of being cured. Often, there is ongoing research, and a cure might be discovered at a later time. He may want to begin saving his money for when it will hopefully become available. So, too, although one individual cannot single-handedly cause Mashiach to come, he should anticipate that it will come soon, and focus his actions toward that endpoint. Inwardly, a person must always yearn for that goal.

The value of this yearning is that he will have a completely different perspective on his actions. For example, if a person plans to move to a nicer home as soon as he can afford to, he will not invest more money in his current home than absolutely necessary. The opposite will be the case with someone who plans to stay in his home for many years. So, too, if we focus on the end (the times of Mashiach or our own deaths) our attitude toward this life and this world will be much different than if we were focused solely on our current state. We would be much less focused on material things. We would still take care of our needs here, but be aware that it is all temporary.

A person would not invest all his money in something unstable. Chazal in fact have advised that one divide his assets among cash, land, and merchandise. This world is unstable, and we must be aware of this fact not only with regard to money.

To illustrate: A person at a red light would not turn off his car engine, because he expects to move soon. But I was once in a traffic jam because the police stopped traffic for hours while they were looking for a criminal, and people parked their cars in the street and got out while they waited. Life is more like a car at a red light. We must be ready for any change in life. This world is full of drastic changes.

These changes in the world serve to remind us not to take the material world too seriously. We must focus on what has real permanence. For example, when a person seeks a wife, he is very careful, and he would not marry someone unstable, because marriage is a long-term commitment.

What has permanence here is the spiritual level. If a person seeks truth and stability, he must be aware of the instability of this world, and not take it too seriously, and on the other hand, connect to the permanent world of Hashem and the Torah. These relate to the eternal world. This awareness will enable us to accept the Torah properly on Shavuot and earn eternity.

Calibrating Covid Fear

In the Ninth chapter of Mesillas Yesharim on Zerizus (Positive Mitzvah Performance), the Ramchal explores the factors that undermine the proper performance of mitzvos. One of the undermining factors he discusses is fear. The Ramchal makes an important distinction between justified fear and excessive fear. Excessive fear creates an atmosphere which inhibits proper mitzvah performance.

In the last month or so, vaccinations have been effective in reducing the health risk of Covid. The CDC website states that if you’ve been fully vaccinated then you can gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart. They do add the caveat that you should avoid medium or large gatherings.

The difficulty with Covid is that it is travelling across the continuum from justified fear to possible excessive fear, in mostly vaccinated Shuls. There is no exact measurement to determine whether a Covid fear is excessive, and therefore different Shuls have implemented a wide range of mask policies.

Let us pray that we continue on the path of transforming our Shuls from Houses of Fear to Houses of Trust in G-d.